Paul, Apostle of Christ
Faithful, inspiring, but unimaginative account of Paul’s last days
Recent years have witnessed a major upsurge in films aimed at a Christian audience. Fueled by outstanding box office numbers, this is a trend that will continue for some time. Among the positive outcomes of this trend is a general improvement in the quality of these Christian films. The acting is getting better, the production values are almost state-of-the-art, and a higher caliber of writers and directors is being employed to make these films.
Almost none of the cover story of Paul, Apostle of Christ is found in the Bible, yet I would describe the film as very faithful to Scripture.
Unfortunately, most films made for Christian audiences today, such as those in the God’s Not Dead series, continue to be poorly written and are almost guaranteed to make non-Christian—or Christian—audience members gag or laugh at the wrong times. This is partly a result of an ill-conceived desire to proselytize (I say ill-conceived because, since virtually all appreciative viewers are already Christians, it seems a little pointless), but it’s also because these films tend to use Christian God-language in a way that only makes sense within a Christian environment. I admit that this phenomenon may be less common in the United States than in Canada (in general, Canada has already moved into a post-Christian society that views such language as archaic and superstitious), but the language in some of these films often makes me cringe.
Written and directed by Andrew Hyatt, Paul, Apostle of Christ is an example of a new kind of Christian film that tries to avoid the above pitfalls while still communicating the story and message of Jesus. Heaven Is for Real and Risen are two other recent examples of films made by the same production company (Affirm Films). All three of these films are a huge step up from the God’s Not Dead series (and its equivalents), but are unable to fully free themselves from the above pitfalls (for example, Paul, Apostle of Christ constantly refers to Jesus as simply “Christ”) and to cross the line into serious praise-worthy films.
Paul, Apostle of Christ tells the story of Paul’s final days in a prison in Rome in 67 AD. Paul (well-played by James Faulkner) is accused of being responsible for the great fire that burned a large part of the city and faces daily lashes as he awaits his execution. The small Christian community in Rome, led by Priscilla and Aquila (Joanne Whalley and John Lynch), is in hiding and watches helplessly as their sisters and brothers are fed to the lions in the circus. Some of the young men in the community grow restless and encourage violence against their Roman oppressors, but Luke (Jim Caviezel), who has just arrived in Rome, reminds them that, for followers of Christ, love is the only way. Luke visits Paul in prison, and there he hears, and writes down, Paul’s life story, which will become the book of Acts.
Meanwhile, a major side story involves the head jailer (prefect), Mauritius (Olivier Martinez), whose daughter is dying of a strange illness. Mauritius, under pressure from some wealthy Romans, is turning a blind eye to Luke’s visits, but he is caught between his desire to respect Paul and Luke and his desire not to lose the respect of his colleagues and his wife, Irenica (Antonia Campbell-Hughes).
Almost none of the cover story of Paul, Apostle of Christ is found in the Bible, yet I would describe the film as very faithful to Scripture. Unfortunately, I think that faithfulness prevents the film from being more compelling. Everything is predictable, even when the film introduces a new story, like that of Mauritius’s daughter, which I found more distracting than compelling. The dialogue-heavy film feels too much like a children’s story, one told without any real drama or passion (very few of the characters display any convincing passion). An example of this is the way the flashbacks of Paul’s life as Saul are shown in slow motion with fuzzy cinematography, making them more boring than exciting. There is a positive side to this, namely the overall lack of sensationalism (that is, we know what horrors people are experiencing, but we are generally not shown them, which is in keeping with the film’s PG-13 rating).
And Paul, Apostle of Christ has many other positive attributes. The acting is generally quite good. The setting and cinematography provide a convincing environment, though it is very dark (due to most scenes being filmed at night or indoors). And the score is strong. But most impressive to me is the film’s unflinching devotion to the idea that nonviolence is the only way for followers of Jesus (as it was the only way for Jesus himself), as well as the film’s focus on love and forgiveness: “Love endures all,” “Know that you are loved,” “Love is the only way,” highlighted in practice by the Christian community’s love for their less fortunate neighbors.
All in all, Paul, Apostle of Christ acquits itself as well as one might expect for a film made by a Christian production company. It’s an inspiring film that is well worth watching.
Paul, Apostle of Christ is rated PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images.