STARRING: Rooney Mara, Joaquim Phoenix
Steadfast love: Phoenix and Mara
Judea, AD 33, is a patriarchy chafing under Roman rule into which wilful Mary (Mara), not a prostitute as popularly supposed but a parental handful all the same, doesn’t fit. Her father isn’t happy with her independent attitude, subjecting her, in the superstitious style of the time, to a drenching exorcism after she nixes a suitor he lined up. Talk about overkill! Plainly, something has to give. Then along comes a man like no other (Phoenix as Guess Who), all laser-gaze, furrowed intensity and impassioned assurances of God’s kingdom.
With the fixity of the fanatic, Mary takes to her heels to follow the prophet — no easy path with its gypsyish roving and sleeping rough on stony ground. His disciples couldn’t give a tinker’s curse, for they are witnessing miracles that are sadly nowhere in evidence with the lumbering and glum direction of Lion’s Garth Davis.
Extreme faith as a celestial blessing and a crucifying curse isn’t everyone’s bitter brew, and Davis’s biblical re-telling has copped a critical pasting for its overall lack of pizzazz. To which I heartily say Amen. A rose-coloured crowd-pleaser (or a bloodied Mel Gibson clubbing, for that matter) this deferentially austere slog will never be. And yet… In Phoenix’s metaphysical teetering-on-tears and Mary’s unwavering devotion to Jesus and his self-sacrificing cause there lies a sense of how that heightened time might really have played out for those who navigated their way through the thick of it.