Film Review: ‘The Young Messiah’

The Young Messiah
Courtesy of Focus Features

This pious drama is a work of minimal imagination and even less subtlety.

Because in this franchise-saturated age, even the New Testament apparently requires a prequel — aside, of course, from the Old Testament — “The Young Messiah” envisages a year in the life of Christ circa age 7. Based on Anne Rice’s 2005 novel, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” and claiming inspiration from Scripture, this pious drama is a work of minimal imagination and even less subtlety. Its hollow tale is merely a series of inert incidents in which the childhood deity (Adam Greaves-Neal) heals, resurrects, and provides revelation on his way from Alexandria to Nazareth (and later Jerusalem) alongside his parents Mary (Sara Lazzaro) and Joseph (Vincent Walsh), all while being pursued by a would-be Roman assassin. A borderline-diabolical test of one’s patience, this sluggish saga will likely stir the spirits of only the staunchest Sunday-school set. 

“How do we explain God to his own son?” asks Joseph to Mary during an early crisis — a somewhat baffling question considering that, as imagined by Cyrus Nowrasteh’s film, Jesus is quite aware of, and engaged in regular conversation with, the Almighty. Jesus’ parents want to keep their son in the dark about his holy parentage because they think ignorance will protect him from those who’d otherwise cause him harm, though their decision primarily reeks of screenwriting contrivance. By having its protagonist remain clueless about the reasons he’s able to magically cure the sick and bring the dead back to life, “The Young Messiah” offers itself a way to pad its incident-light narrative via redundant scenes of Joseph, Mary and rambunctious Uncle Cleopas (Christian McKay) debating the practicality of cluing the kid in to his divinity.

After Jesus is wrongly blamed for a bully’s death and then revives him — events that compel others to slander him as an agent of Satan — Joseph opts to heed his latest dream and relocate the family back to Nazareth. That journey constitutes the bulk of the action, yet almost nothing of consequence actually occurs along the way, save for a run-in with a fugitive slave, a narrow escape from some centurions tasked with killing the region’s rebellious Jews, and much praying for guidance and strength. Such turgid proceedings are routinely intercut with the mission of soldier Severus (Sean Bean) to track down and kill the rumored-to-be-messianic child on the orders of King Herod (Jonathan Bailey). It’s a task with which Severus seems only partially comfortable, but which he accepts lest he incur the wrath of his ruler, here portrayed as a curly-haired pansexual male model plagued by visions of invisible serpents.

Compounding Jesus’ plight are regular encounters with an apple-chomping demon (Rory Keenan) whose long blond locks and brown goatee suggest that the devil’s preferred form is 1990s-era Brad Pitt. Trying in vain to terrify and tempt Jesus, this sinister figure is the most flamboyant of the film’s many embellishments, which also include panoramas of silhouettes traveling across hillsides; shots of the “boy angel” that segue from God’s-eye aerial perspectives to worshipful ground-level views; and endless closeups of intense eyes and faces bathed in beatific sunlight. As in his prior, equally ham-fisted “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” director Nowrasteh employs as many over-the-top visual gestures as he can muster, all of them drenched in sweeping orchestral music and soaring crooning. The result is that, in terms of its tunics-and-beards-and-braided-hair style and from-on-high soundtrack, the film feels like a cross between a biblical “Game of Thrones” and an Enya music video.

From Joseph’s furrowed-brow concern and Mary’s wide-eyed fearfulness to Severus’ apprehensive determination, the characters are a one-note bunch. Greaves-Neal’s sacred adolescent, meanwhile, proves to be such an innocent, open-faced blank that the film never generates even a hint of authentic spirituality. The story’s preordained destination negates any sense of suspense, but it’s Jesus’ uncomplicated goodness — as well as sequences that aim to foreshadow his ultimate fate, such as a trek past some crucified men — that render the action a pointless before-He-was-martyred exercise.

By the time its characters have reached the Jerusalem temple where Jesus is destined to triumphantly face off against Severus, “The Young Messiah” has delivered so little in the way of urgent or meditative drama that its climactic attempts at uplift fall flat. A final, somewhat uncertain note, however, suggests that the filmmakers may be saving a more introspective examination of Christ’s nature for a forthcoming “Jesus: The Teen Years” sequel.

 

Film Review: 'The Young Messiah'

Reviewed at AMC Loews Port Chester 14, Port Chester, N.Y., March 11, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 111 MIN.

Production

A Focus Features release and presentation, in association with Ocean Blue Entertainment, of a 1492 Pictures/CJ Entertainment production. Produced by Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe, Michael Barnathan, Tracy K. Price, Mark W. Shaw. Executive producers, Enzo Sisti, William V. Andrew, Mark Burton, Miky Lee, Tae-Sung Jeong, Ashok Amritraj, Andrew Spaulding, Richard Sandfer. Co-producers, Sand H. Cho, Guy Inzalaco, Richard Lee, Steven Nam.

Crew

Directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh. Screenplay, Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, Cyrus Nowrasteh. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Joel Ransom; editors, Geoffrey Rowland, Paul Seydor; music, John Debney; production designer, Francesco Frigeri; supervising art director, Domenico Sica; set decorator, Francesco Frigeri; costume designer, Stefano De Nardis; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital); supervising sound editor, Ethan Beigel; re-recording mixers, Aaron Levy, Ethan Beigel; production sound mixer, Marco Fiumara; special effects supervisor, Renato Agostini; visual effects, Pixel Magic; visual effects supervisor, Chris Cooper; stunt coordinator, Franco Salamon; line producer, Enzo Sisti; associate producer, Karen Swallow; assistant director, Luca Lachin; casting, Suzanne M. Smith.

With

Adam Greaves-Neal, Sara Lazzaro, Vincent Walsh, Finn McLeod Ireland, Christian McKay, Agni Scott, Lois Ellington, Jane Lapotaire, Dune Medros, Rory Keenan, Sean Bean, Jonathan Bailey.

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  1. travis warren says:

    I feel as though we are owed a good life tired of living as though we are a menice to society when is all actuallality we are why you are here time to pay up

  2. travis warren says:

    He is me and i am him

  3. truth says:

    The only thing I will say is would be nice to get characters that actually looked like the REAL characters…color and hair…fair skinned white people were not even in that region! Its okay to tell the truth and nothing but the Whole truth. Jesus had skin of olive which is darker and hair like sheep wool…not sraight but supper curly or nappy.

  4. syringa12 says:

    A friend and I just saw the movie and we both enjoyed it very much. I disagree that it is blasphemous in that the Gospels say nothing about the boyhood of Jesus from the flight into Egypt until the age of 12 when He teaches in the Temple. Christ was both fully human and fully Divine and I thought the movie did an excellent job of portraying Him as a young boy struggling to understand His place and future. We should be applauding filmmakers with the courage to create a film of beauty, dignity and faith. And yes, I read the Common Sense Media review.

  5. Avid reader says:

    I really enjoyed reading another review that takes several fluffy paragraphs to say “it wasn’t my thing.” Overuse of flat metaphors and over stretched anologies are so hard to find now a days in reviews. I agree that this movie would have been so much better if they had been more creative and exciting….trade in the donkeys for a high speed car chase, add a few guns and explosions for goodness sake, and where the heck was the lustful romance??? A seven year marriage in a conservative Jewish family is too realistically bland for the average joe….spice it up! This movie takes place over a relatively short time span, but I agree…the actors were too consistently stressed, worried, and weary with traveling and constantly being under threat of being killed…I mean, lighten up! They should have added a contextually inappropriate party or two so they could show more depth. The light comic relief uncle did not do his job. And it IS baffeling how unrealistic this movie is…a human seven-year-old Jesus who regularly prays SHOULD fully understand he is the Messiah…why couldn’t this movie be more plausible like Deadpool? And the ending is soooo predictable…couldn’t they have a twist at the end where they go to Disney World or someplace more exotic? I mean, it worked for Titanic that the boat surprisingly DIDN’T sink at the end! And if they do make “Jesus, the Adolescent Years,” it’s probably going to take place is the same boring war torn lands and more boring miracles will probably happen. There might even be more superfluous hum drum crucified rebels… We the American people need something more exciting than resurrection and torturous deaths!!! That’s so yesterday! And Anne Rice has never been successful with any of her projects and is known for failing to entertain so I can’t believe they made a movie based on her work. Kudos though to the reviewer for finding a super creative way to plop in Brad Pitt’s name…if only he had been cast as Severus, this movie would have had the star power to captivate even the most serious of attention deficits.

  6. J LuQue says:

    not every movie is an academy award winner, I loved the movie

  7. Bernadette Wolff says:

    I disliked this movie for various religious reasons, found it blasphemous and contrived, inconsistent with true Christian belief. I applaud the sense of the author of this commentary. He has more keen insight into Christianity than the readers.

    • David Webb says:

      Ms. Wolff, you are correct on the movie being blasphemous, contrived, and inconsistent with true Christian belief. There is an excellent review at Common Sense Media that reveals how the movie also promotes the Arian heresy.

      Have courage to defend the Faith and warn others against the trappings of movies like these!

  8. maggie evans says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with the review. I found the film to be unique, creatively directed and beautifully photographed. The acting is excellent and moving. The choice to portray Satan and Herod as seductive young men with rock star looks is unique and original. I liked this movie very much and will recommend.

    • usero1 says:

      Maggie, you might want to consider the reviews at Common Sense Media. There’s a number of problems with this portrayal of Christ that runs contrary to Scripture and Christian doctrine. It might be a “feel good” movie but, as the review points out, that’s merely the product of screenwriting contrivance.

      Being a “feel good” movie makes a movie like this all the more dangerous, since it does have unorthodox and blasphemous elements that could eschew the faithful and non-believers about the nature of Christ.

      I’m glad you enjoyed your time at the cinema, but there’s more at risk in supporting movies like these!

      • usero1 says:

        @SteverB

        The only ones who refer to “The Passion of the Christ” as a “snuff film” are those who want to keep the world from witnessing the historically accurate depiction of the cruelty that Christ suffered at the hands of Godless people, a prideful people who held more faith in themselves and feared Caesar more than God!

        Those who refer to “The Passion of the Christ” as a “snuff film” are the same who want the world to think of an effeminate Christ, an impotent “hippie” Christ. A “Christ” who affirms us in our errors, rather than the true Christ Who was mocked, humiliated, and Who then suffered brutal torture and died because of our selfish sins.

        In proper context — in its true and uncensored depiction — what living soul can watch “The Passion of the Christ” and not feel moved to truly repent and amend their lives, having witnessed the closest, most honest depiction of what Christ suffered for the sake of all souls!

        “The Passion of the Christ” reveals the bloody and gruesome price that Christ paid for our salvation, and that’s something that most people today are too selfish or too weak to witness, because they fear what their conscious will demand of them next: true penance, Reconciliation, abandoning the vain and fleeting pleasures of the world to pursue the everlasting Glory of Heaven.

        Indeed, “few are the saved!” It’s much easier to deceive ourselves with thoughts that we can live as we are, doing as we please, without cost or consequence, and that a “loving” Christ will be obligated to forgive us and accept as we are, however willfully rotten, callous, or corrupted.

        Do not be mistaken: There is consequence for unremitted sin in Heaven as on earth!

      • SteverB says:

        Oh yes! FAR better that Christ should be portrayed as He was in that snuff film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

  9. Chris B says:

    The reviewer says the “The Young Messiah” is ham-fisted like “The Stoning of Soraya M.” Anne Rice, the author who wrote, “Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt,” approached director Nowrasteh because of the power, storytelling and beauty of the disturbing tale of “Stoning.” If we are going to consider the creativity of this movie, I think we ought to give the novelist the nod.

    This movie is beautifully shot in settings that recreate a very different time period. Although there is considerable dramatic tension throughout by the juxtaposition of “Roman steel” and the humanness of the Jewish population and Jesus’ family, a down-to-earth quality of life is conveyed, a slowness in the passage of time that allows for the interior life of Jesus to be considered. It is this internal world which gives the penultimate scene, the confrontation between Severus, the centurion, and the boy, Jesus, in the Jerusalem temple, its depth. Without quite realizing it yet, Jesus is able to be in contact with the centurion’s guilt in his participation in the horrific killing of the population in Bethlehem: Sean Bean , with wonderful subtlety, conveys the lifting of this weight from his conscience. The quietude of the young actor, Adam Reaves-Neal, allows this exchange its power.

  10. David says:

    I fully understand Nick Schager’s comments from just returning from seeing Young Messiah with my wife and granddaughter- I would have felt the same as Nick 25 years ago but today my faith was even more seared into my soul by a beautiful courageous film about our Lord and Savior. Nick, this is very threatening territory for you and I understand that as a once non-believer. This is a story too audacious and foolhardy to even contemplate yet believe. I loved the story the cinematography and the acting. I had tears and Gospel chills (don’t expect Nick to understand either) and I feel privileged to have seen it and applaud the wisdom and love that went into making it.

  11. BB says:

    A beautiful simple film. Why does every film have to be about ‘urgent’ or ‘meditative’ drama? This film does not need that. Adam Greaves-Neal (Jesus) is captivating! A positive, and wonderful film for the whole family. We don’t have too many of those these days!

  12. Randy says:

    Saw this movie today and disagree more from this pathetic review, Beautiful movie.

  13. anonymous says:

    Such a cynical and snarky review for a such a thoughtful and beautiful movie. I saw it in a packed theater and everyone loved it.

  14. Mar51 says:

    I just returned from seeing The Young Messiah, and I am surprised at this negative review. I, along with a fairly full theater, really enjoyed this movie. I thought it was beautiful visually and in its story.

    I cannot disagree with the reviewer more on the impact of the ending of the movie. The scenes that begin in the temple and continue to the end of the movie were very powerful. The centurion, who was added in the screenplay, made the movie much more person for me.

    • Karen D. says:

      VERY POWERFUL MOVIE. I was glad I went alone. The beauty and intensity of the film had tears running down my face. I had read Anne Rice’s book several years ago and have contemplated what the young life of Jesus would have been like. The presence of evil in the movie was striking. I have actually felt “evil” whispering in my ear like the characters in the movie, the enticement and the temptation of evil in the world is palatable many times and was portrayed realistically. Loved the movie, would see it again and recommend it. Score 10+

  15. Frank says:

    The Young Messiah is a powerful testament to the humanity of Jesus Christ. The spectacular storyline, cinematography, and cast brought the Young Messiah into my heart, connecting my soul with the Lord as never before. Something so enlightening entertaining will certainly attract dark reviews.

    • usero1 says:

      Frank, it’s curious that you mention the humanity of Jesus, which is the root problem of the story that lends itself to the Arian heresy. Rather than copy/ paste here, you should read the thorough explanation in the user reviews for “The Young Messiah” at Common Sense Media.

      You’ll feel differently after reading a proper explanation. Personally, I felt duped after the review mentioned explained it — go read it!

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