The new movie about St. Paul from ODB Films, the filmmakers who brought you Full of Grace, comes to theaters on March 23, just in time for Palm Sunday on the 25th. Let me answer the big questions right away:
Is it good? Yes.
Is it biblical? Sort of.
It’s historical and extra-biblical, meaning it takes historical events and passages from the Bible that we know occurred. Then, the movie depicts them, along with scenes and events created by the filmmakers that are not in Sacred Scripture but could have happened.
Is it heretical? No.
Not to my understanding, and not to any of the priests and theologians whom I have asked about the movie. Now, if you are one of those people who feels that depicting anything from the Bible that is not explicitly in the Bible, you will have problems with the film. But, to paraphrase St. John the Apostle, if everything that Christ did was written down, there would not be enough books in the world to record it.
How is the message and the portrayal of faith? The message is powerful, and faith is portrayed as meaningful and positive, but also real.
Which means some people doubt, some struggle, some even fall away. Even Paul questions. But – spoiler alert – the ending message of faith, hope and love is all the more powerful for it. For those who are offended by saints depicted as actual human beings, be warned. However, Paul in the New Testament writes about the good he wants to do but does not do, and the bad he does not want to do but does anyway.
Should I see it? YES.
It is a striking, contemplative look at one of the most influential people in all of Christianity.
Paul, Apostle of Christ, however, is significant for another reason as well: I believe it embodies the next step of faith–based films, and this is a good thing!
I say this because, while still being low-budget (especially by Hollywood standards), it is a professional-looking movie, with real, recognizable actors: Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest), James Faulkner (Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones) and Olivier Martinez (Revenge & S.W.A.T.). It also delivers a powerful story with quality writing, AND it still manages to deliver a message rather than just showing a sermon on screen.
Have you ever felt in the past that saying you liked Christian films was like confessing to a guilty pleasure? When someone, especially a non-believer, asked if you liked certain famous, faith-based movies, did you feel like you needed to justify yourself if you said “yes”?
For example, you would admit the acting isn’t great, the writing is heavy-handed, and the production value was just above amateur – but hey, the message was fantastic! Well, I think that day is disappearing, where audiences are no longer turning out like they used to just because a film mentions Jesus and stars Kirk Cameron or Kevin Sorbo. (God bless you, Kirk and Kevin, for being trailblazers in this field!)
Critics and fans have been asking, when will faith-based films be … well, good. In all honesty, there have been such high-budgeted fair which often featured a known star or two. These are films like Risen and Miracles from Heaven, and they did deliver a higher-quality experience However, the budgets were much, much bigger, therefore much riskier and that gave rise to the question– if a film like Moonlight could be made for $2 million and be Academy Award-worthy (it won the best picture Oscar in 2017), why couldn’t faith films be the same?
And, where were the Catholics in all this Christian content?
Well, we find our answer in Paul, Apostle of Christ. Made for a slightly larger budget than God’s Not Dead 2 and War Room ($3 million apiece, per BoxOfficeMojo.com) and for a bit less than recent release I Can Only Imagine, here is a modestly priced movie, made by Catholics, that still delivers in quality on every level.
Now, to be clear, this film is more of a chamber piece, literally, where Paul spends most of the story in a chamber, his prison cell. However, a chamber piece usually means a film that largely shows people talking in rooms. There are no car (or chariot) chases or harrowing escapes, and this film does not focus on some of the more action-packed moments of St. Paul’s life.
Instead, it shows Paul as an old man, who is a prisoner of Nero and awaits the eventual day of his execution. It opens with the Gospel writer, St. Luke, arriving in Rome to find the Christian community there. He wants to connect with Paul to guide him in helping the faithful, who are now facing intense persecution under the emperor.
Despite the lack of big action scenes, the film still manages to touch the heart by asking, arguing and addressing some of the big issues that Christian faced back then and still struggle with today. For example, what it does it mean to believe when the powers of the world seem stacked against you? Also, how do you find hope and love in a world so ruled by fear and hate? More importantly, if you can find these graces, how do you live them?
Paul, Apostle of Christ brings that drama to the big screen in a subtle but beautiful and effective way.
I would recommend going to the theaters to have this film help you start your Holy Week.
Image: ODB Films/Sony Affirm