Mary Magdalene
dir Garth Davis
scr Helen Edmundson, Philippa Goslett
prd Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Liz Watts
with Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tahar Rahim, Ariane Labed, Denis Menochet, Lubna Azabal, Tcheky Karyo, Irit Sheleg, Charles Babalola, David Schofield, Ryan Corr
release UK 16.Mar.18, US 12.Apr.19
18/UK Universal 2h00
Mary Magdalene
Start the revolution: Phoenix, Sheleg and Mara

ejiofor rahim labed
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mary Magdalene Telling the story of Jesus through Mary Magdalene's eyes should be an emotional experience. But this film is so earnest and reverent that it's just dull. Billed as revisionist, the script merely adds a sketchy backstory with little insight, leaving the plot out of balance. And the production design feels cliched. There are moments that catch the imagination, and some moving scenes, but it's a missed opportunity.

After falling out with her family, Mary (Mara) leaves Magdala to join the followers of a rabbi (Phoenix) everyone calls "the healer". His closest cohorts are the brooding Peter (Ejiofor) and the sparky Judas (Rahim), both of whom are looking ahead to Jesus taking on the oppressive occupying Romans and liberating the Jewish people. As they travel the countryside healing the sick and gathering crowds with Jesus' politically charged sermons, their entourage grows. And as they approach Jerusalem, there's a sense that Jesus' revolution is about to kick off.

Shifting the perspective on such iconic events has the potential to layers of meaning, but the filmmakers resolutely avoid originality. Everything is moody and mopey, unintelligibly whispered dialog delivered with aching glances. The script intriguingly depicts how Mary is caught up in Jesus' philosophy, then plays it as if she has a crush on him. Nothing in their interaction reveals much about their connection. And as the film continues, the focus switches to the more traditional narrative about love and forgiveness.

Because of this muted approach, the actors never get much to do. Mara gazes wide-eyed through every scene, while Phoenix uses the same pinched expression to express yearning compassion and pained frustration. Ejiofor and Rahim get a little more to do, although Peter's and Judas' individual trajectories are both under-defined and simplistic. No one else on-screen properly registers as a character, although Sheleg adds an emotional angle as Jesus' mother.

Everything about this film screams "worthy", with hackneyed sets and costumes. Instead of making a comment about a sophisticated, deeply cultured nation enslaved by an invader, the film merely portrays the Jewish nation as living in the stone age draped in colourless rough-hewn fabric. It's an approach that eliminates any sense of real life, instead opting for a banal movie aesthetic. In other words, the filmmakers never remotely challenge the audience in any way, and while the film's underlying message has power, it's delivered in a way that leaves it there on screen, never resonating like it should.

cert 15 themes, violence 5.Mar.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall