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Paul, Apostle of Christ
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Paul, Apostle of Christ is a faith-based drama centering on the titular Biblical figure. It's very violent, with an emphasis on brutality. Much of it is implied rather than shown directly, including repeated visual references to the murder of an unarmed child and the marching off to execution of women and children for a crowd's amusement. But the results/evidence of the violence are shown in detail: There's lots of spilled blood, and wounds are shown. Romans brutalize Christians, including burning them to death -- burned bodies are shown, and victims screams in agony. Rebels also stab Romans. Other than the violence, iffy content is virtually nonexistent; a scene takes place in a brothel, but nothing graphic is shown, and while characters do drink wine, it's never to excess. Messages include persistence, perseverance, and fidelity to your beliefs.
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What's the story?
PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST finds the New Testament figure (James Faulkner) aged and imprisoned by the Romans. His friend, the physician Luke (Jim Caveizel), visits Paul to write his story, which would eventually become part of the Bible's Luke-Acts. The Roman Mauritius (Olivier Martinez), who oversees the prison, worries about the declining health of his own daughter. Meanwhile, two peaceful leaders (John Lynch, Joanne Whalley) of the brutally persecuted Christian community that Paul helped found in Rome work to get their followers out of the increasingly dangerous city before a splinter group commits retaliatory acts of violence.
Is it any good?
By attempting to create a suspenseful plot and in highlighting bloody religious persecution, this Biblical drama pays short shrift to its own subject. Viewers come in late to the story of the titular Paul, Apostle of Christ. He's essentially a supporting character whose previous life as a killer of Christians is conveyed in brief, unenlightening flashbacks. Per the Bible story, he's struck blind by God, then opens his eyes to a new life as a Christian proselyte. The filmmakers don't get into the human reasons for that choice, instead presenting the semi-parallel story of jailer Maritius (Martinez) and the possibility of his own eventual change. Like that wellspring of modern Biblical films, The Passion of the Christ, Paul focuses more on brutality than redemption. It's quite a cinematically accomplished endeavor: The production design, costumes, and cinematography are all beautifully executed. And it boasts a veteran cast, with Martinez compelling as the only character who undergoes anything like a transformation.
The film's faith-based perspective is clear -- "We're the only light left in this city," says a Christian leader; praying to non-Christian gods won't save a child, but a Christian doctor might -- which is fine. The question is, exactly what story does it mean to tell? The best of practical Christian values are celebrated -- charity, nonviolence, compassion -- but the dirty work of coming to those beliefs after being steeped in other methods is glossed over. The deep darkness of Paul's past is only alluded to via bloody memories; what allowed him to behave that way? The Bible's heavy-handed device for changing his heart is hardly the most dramatic storytelling choice. And the ticking clock on the Christians' escape from Rome feels put on, not moored to anything. Paul is a beautifully executed re-imagining of the Bible story, but it lacks real insight into human behavior.
Talk to your kids about ...
The film is named for a major New Testament figure, Paul/Saul of Tarsus/Paul of Taron. Considering the film's structure and emphasis, what do you think of the title? What did you learn about Paul? What's your impression of his life?
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