Underneath the cheesy dialogue and scenery chomping efforts of
some of the supporting cast, there's a very provocative premise in
THE BODY, adapted by writer-director Jonas McCord from the novel by
Richard Ben Sapir. Israeli archeologist Sharon (Olivia Williams) is called
to an ancient tomb discovered in the backyard of a shop owned by a
Palestinian. There, she makes the astonishing discovery that it contains
crucified remains dating to around 32 A.D. Soon the Vatican, as well as
the Mossad and a rogue band of Palestinians are all vying to gain control
of the skeleton. Of course, the intriguing question that hovers over the
proceedings like the proverbial elephant in the living room is the identity
of the man in question. Romans used crucifixion on the lower classes
and the bodies were almost always burned later. There was, of course,
one figure whose story is told in a book called the Bible ...
Is THE BODYThe Body that of Jesus? A fellow archeologist named
Dr. Lavelle (Derek Jacobi), who happens to be a priest, believes it is,
and that sparks a crisis of faith for him. Enter Jesuit priest Father
Matthew Gutierrez (Antonio Banderas). Assigned by Vatican bigwig
Cardinal Pesci (John Wood), Fr. Gutierrez arrives in Jerusalem
to investigate the matter. Never mind that he's not a historian or
even a real archeologist. He's the man selected because of an
essay he wrote about Jesus being his best friend. (I'm not kidding!)
Gutierrez has perhaps the most intriguing curriculum vitae of any
religious in films since Whoopi Goldberg's lounge singer donned a
habit in SISTER ACT.
You see, Matt (as he prefers to be called) was a combat soldier
who moved into military intelligence before taking his vows. There's a
vague suggestion that he has seen or done something horrible, but
like most things in this film, whatever it was is left unexplained. So
armed with a Vatican imprimatur, he arrives in the Middle East and
is soon sparring with Sharon.
There is obviously meant to be a sense of sexual tension between
the pair, the attractive widow (with two children) and the handsome
cleric. But the ludicrous dialogue and the attempts to cart religious
differences into the mix not to mention the lack of chemistry between
the two leads end up denuding the proceedings.
Both of the primary actors attempt to infuse their characters
with dignity and a modicum of truth, but even Ms. Williams cannot
contain her bemusement in an early scene with Derek Jacobi (who
here over-emotes in the worst possible manner). While Jacobi
intones pompously, an inappropriate smirk eventually creeps over
the actress' face. She has better luck with Banderas who, while just
as serious, at least underplays some of his scenes. (He should;
this role reportedly fetched him $12 million.)
The complicated religious differences of the region are sketched
in by the stereotypical supporting players. The Vatican and its denizens
also do not come off well, either. Only the always dependable Jason
Flemyng attempts to inject a sense of fun into the overly serious
subject matter as an Irish priest who acts as a sort of concierge
and sounding board for Matt.
McCord's script contains more than its share of unintentionally
humorous moments, but he also seems to be skirting around serious
theological questions. When everything starts to point to the fact that
the skeleton found might indeed be that of Jesus, the film makes an
attempt to confront the repercussions to world religion. (That it only
addresses how the matter would affect Catholics is another of its
shortcomings). The expert cinematography of master d.p. Vilmos
Zsigmond at least gives the viewer interesting compositions and
a travelogue look at the Middle East. Other than that, THE BODY
posits a truly fascinating and thought-provoking idea and then wraps
it in absurdity.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (violence, thematic elements)
Running time: 108 mins.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.