Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Gary Oldman
American release date: March 2, 2010
Format/Genre/Length: DVD/Biblical/176 minutes
Overall Personal Rating: A
Similar series or titles to check out: Jesus of Nazareth, King of Kings
When I first began to watch this particular production of the life of Jesus Christ, I was honestly not sure what to expect. I’d caught glimpses of it on TV when it first aired, but not enough to get a feel for it, and back then it was shown with commercials, which never add to one’s ability to enjoy a film or mini-series. To be even more honest, the basic reason I watched it was to see Gary Oldman, who is my favorite actor and whom I’ve adored for years. Adding to my potential confusion, though, was the fact that I had just recently started watching Six Feet Under, which also features Jeremy Sisto as the crazy Billy Chenoweth. And now I was going to watch him play Jesus? I wasn’t sure how well I could wrap my head around that.
Well, I was totally unprepared to be blown away. Jeremy Sisto brings a freshness and realistic approach to his portrayal of Jesus that is almost as good as Robert Powell’s version. He makes him human, as he undoubtedly was, and he makes him playful—there are some really cute scenes with Jesus and his apostles. I wasn’t necessarily as taken with the actor who played Judas, his was a more traditional portrayal. It wasn’t bad, I just didn’t find it above average. Also, I recognized one of the apostles, Thomas as being in the new Showtime series The Borgias. He plays Micheletto, the assassin.
Debra Messing as Mary Magdalene was an interesting choice—don’t look for her to play Grace here. She plays Mary M in a traditional way, as that of the prostitute who turns her life around for Jesus. I think that is a stereotype started by the church, and that the real woman was not a prostitute, but she has been vilified for years by the church for its own reasons. Regardless, her performance is better than I expected, and shows that Debra Messing can play more serious roles. Jesus’ mother is played by veteran actress Jacqueline Bisset, who does a fine job of it.
GW Bailey is Philo, a character that helps to unify the plot in terms of the Jewish side and the Roman side, becoming a confidante of the new governor, Pontius Pilate, played very well, as always, by Gary Oldman. He beings humor as well as cruelty to the role. You might remember him as the less than bright but entertaining Rizzo, from the MASH series.
One of the interesting aspects of this series which isn’t normally brought out much in films concerning Jesus is the relationship between himself and his earthly father, Joseph, played here by Armin Mueller-Stahl. It also shows Jesus in his role as a carpenter’s apprentice, and portrays a close bond between the two men that I have no trouble believing existed. Also there is mention of a love between Jesus and Mary, Lazarus’ sister, which is also believable. Jesus was 33 when he died, how hard is it to believe he had feelings for a woman at some point, even if he realized nothing could come of it? There are some realistic scenes where Lazarus gets upset with Jesus for seeming to lead his sister on and breaking her heart.
All in all the nearly three hour mini-series flies by. I enjoyed watching it, enjoyed Jeremy Sisto and Gary Oldman very much. I would watch it again without hesitation.