Cast: James Faulkner, Jim Caviezel, Olivier Martinez, Antonia Campbell-Hughes
Director: Andrew Hyatt
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Paul, Apostle of Christ is the story of two men. Luke, as a friend and physician, risks his life every time he ventures into the city of Rome to visit Paul, who is held captive in Nero’s darkest, bleakest prison cell. Before Paul’s death sentence can be enacted, Luke resolves to write another book, one that details the beginnings of “The Way” and the birth of what will come to be known as the church. But Nero is determined to rid Rome of Christians, and does not flinch from executing them in the grisliest ways possible. Bound in chains, Paul’s struggle is internal. He has survived so much–floggings, shipwreck, starvation, stoning, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure–yet as he waits for his appointment with death, he is haunted by the shadows of his past misdeeds. Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten… and if he has the strength to finish well. Two men struggle against a determined emperor and the frailties of the human spirit in order to bequeath the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
As the Easter season comes to a close, we see one of the heaviest points of the year for faith-based films. With I Can Only Imagine coming out the week before as an above average start to the season. I questioned whether or not Paul, Apostle of Christ could hold itself to the same standard. The transition from a biopic to a historical piece is not an easy one as a series of bad decisions can make the film unwatchable. While Paul, Apostle of Christ does not do anything to make it that bad, overacting from the supporting characters and a strange tone during the conclusion take away from some otherwise strong performances by Faulkner and Caviezel.
The film follows Luke (Caviezel) as he travels to Rome to help other Christians in their time of need. Emperor Nero has blamed Christians for setting fire to half of Rome and wants them to be executed and tortured for their involvement. One of the head Christians in Rome; Paul (Faulkner) has been signaled out for his alleged involvement, sent to prison, and is awaiting a death sentence. Luke and Paul spend the rest of the plot working with one another to figure out what God’s message is for the future of Christians and how they can overcome these hardships. The first thing I noticed was the chemistry between Caviezel and Faulkner was distinct and complementary. They really seem to have developed a teacher-to-student relationship where Paul knows more about what the Church needs while Luke knows more about what the Church wants. Watching both of their stories grow over the course of their lives is also decently interesting. We start to sympathize with Paul, even though the actions of his early life were deplorable, but we know he feels guilt and has worked his whole life to reverse those atrocities. Outside of that, I was surprised by how real much of the atmosphere felt. Since the persecution of Christians under Nero did indeed happen, it is worth showing how terrible these actions were to the people who were impacted by them. Nero was a terrible and brutal person, and the fact that the film shows many of his terrible and brutal actions instead of hiding them for the feelings of the audience makes the experience feel that much more authentic. Top this off with the fact that they filmed in Malta instead of a studio in Los Angeles makes the setting and atmosphere of day-to-day life feel like you are there in Rome with them.
While the film is a relatively by-the-books historical drama, it does not mean it is infallible. Many of the actors who get less screen time are only there to show the emotional impact that these events had on the average Christian’s life. I understand that these events are absolutely traumatizing and would destroy most people, but acting in such an over-the-top way almost makes it come off as fake. Do not get me wrong, I prefer this over an actor who does not care or does not want to be there, but there is a happy medium that could have been used to drive the point home. Outside of this, the tone shift at the conclusion is strange and undermines most of the setup leading up to it. Paul and Luke are having a conversation after the main plot wraps up, but it is very light-hearted and humorous. Based on the events that happened the day before, I do not feel as though humor was the right direction to go. It would be like if someone talking about Pearl Harbor said, “We’ll laugh about this one day,” on December 8. Take some time to understand the magnitude of your situation and act in a way that aligns with what your followers need. Combine this with slow pacing and a plot that tries to do too much and you get a movie that is weighted down by its own potential
Overall, while not the worst film of all time, it did not capitalize on its opportunities to be great. Many of the foundations of a great movie were there, including a seasoned cast and a plot that makes people care, but unfortunately this film could not put all the pieces together. Christian movies have a long track record of success in the period piece, so I hope to see more of them in the future. The fact that this film showcases events that actually happened instead of events that could hypothetically happen to Christians today makes it all that more important. This film was a couple of decisions away from being a solid piece of religious film history, but instead we got one that will end up falling to the wayside.
Overall Score: 4.5/10