Sunday, March 29, at
National Geographic Channel
Haaz Sleiman, Kelsey Grammer, Eoin Macken, Stephen Moyer, John Rhys-Davies, Rufus Sewell, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Tamsin Egerton, Aneurin Barnard, Klara Issova, Joe Doyle, Chris Ryman, Joseph Long, Jason Kavan
Scott Free Productions
Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
More on this TV movie at IMDb.com
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TV Review: Killing Jesus
By Hannah Goodwyn
CBN.com Senior Producer
- Part political thriller, part historical drama, Killing Jesus breathes new life into a lineage of cinematic portrayals centering on the humble carpenter from Nazareth. Gratifyingly portrayed by Lebanese-American actor Haaz Sleiman, we watch as Jesus flips the balance of power with His message of God's grace and love when law and order rule.
Undoubtedly one of National Geographic's most ambitious projects, Killing Jesus finds its basis in the words written by best-selling authors Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. Director Christopher Menaul crafts this three-hour television event using screenwriter Walon Green's script as its blueprint.
National Geographic matches its mission to preserve history with O'Reilly and Dugard's carefully researched book and its findings about the Man from Galilee. Though some criticize it for focusing on Jesus' humanity and glossing over His divinity, Killing Jesus does what National Geographic and its authors set out to do--tell an engaging account of one of the most influential figures in history. Killing Jesus centers on the Son of God, but gives those in power who sought to quash his growing influence over the Jewish people a chance to tell their side of the story.
Killing Jesus starts at the beginning of the Rabbi's life with King Herod the Great (played by Kelsey Grammer) ruthlessly ruling over his people. Paranoid that his throne will be usurped, Herod orders the murder of all of the male babies in Bethlehem when three magi from the East tell him of the Messiah's birth.
From here, we get the tone of National Geographic's TV movie, which was filmed entirely in Morocco. It's one that doesn't shy away from the violence or immorality of that time. This Ridley Scott-produced project cautions viewers, and for good reason. A few minutes in, we see King Herod's guards brutally thrust their swords through the male children. Grieved mothers weep over their bodies, as they lie dead in the street.
In the portrayal of the death of John the Baptist, viewers witness his vicious beheading at the order of Antipas (Eoin Macken), who rules over Galilee. In one prominent scene, Salome (Stephanie Leonidas) seductively dances for her stepfather, Antipas, at his request. Salome's sheer robe entices Antipas' lust, granting her and Herodia's (Emmanuelle Chriqui) wish to have John the Baptist killed. Antipas graphically acts out his immoral thoughts toward his stepdaughter by licking and kissing her bare leg.
We also see the bloody scourging and merciless crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans, at the insistence of the Sanhedrin (John Rhys-Davies, Rufus Sewell) and by the order of Pontius Pilate (Stephen Moyer). Likewise, the hanging of Judas (Joe Doyle) from a tree outside Jerusalem is most effecting.
For those who wonder about the amount of Bible-based events in Killing Jesus, know that the TV movie does show Jesus as He is seen by the faithful few who closely followed Him. Some of Jesus' most famous teaching moments, including the Sermon on the Mount, are intact. Sleiman, as Jesus, quotes essential New Testament scripture, including remarks about needing to be "born again" and the profound verse found in John 11:25 ("I am the resurrection and the life. And those who believe in me, even though he die, will live.").
At first, Jesus seems unaware of His divine connection to God. And He appears surprised by the effect of His prayer while fishing in the barren Sea of Galilee with a frustrated fisherman named Simon, later called Peter (Alexis Rodney). The Holy Spirit is not mentioned; however, Jesus is seen baptized in the Jordan River. Jesus' miracles are, for the most part, only referenced. Also, the resurrection, though implied, is not visually confirmed with the return of Jesus in the flesh.
Menaul, cast, and crew tell this well-known story in an interesting and unfamiliar way. Presenting Jesus' life and death from a largely historical perspective could open this religious history to wider audiences. And though Killing Jesus covers a lot of ground, it's done succinctly and does not overload the viewer. From its authentic-looking set design to its detailed costumes, Killing Jesus transports you back to the arrival of Jesus, to witness how He shook established law and tradition.
Killing Jesus serves as a conversation starter, encouraging viewers to accept the historical evidence of Jesus. Audiences will see that He really lived, really died, and that it's entirely possible He lived again (as believers know He did). With two billion Christians living in the world today, there should be plenty of followers to engage those who question in meaningful dialogue about the greatest act of love mankind has or will ever know.
Special Note: The conviction of Christ's divinity and our need for His sacrifice as payment for our sin is, as written in the Book of John, the work of the Holy Spirit. Killing Jesus has done what it set out to do. Now, the faithful must pick up where it leaves off.
Hannah Goodwyn serves as the Entertainment producer for CBN.com. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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