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The Passion of the Christ

Released: Feb. 25

Distributor: Newmarket Film Group

Oscar alumni: Mel Gibson (director, producer, “Braveheart”), Bruce Davey (producer, “Braveheart”)

The only other film this year that has elicited such wildly divergent reactions as “The Passion of the Christ” is “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Like Michael Moore’s film, “Passion’s” supporters and detractors appear to be divided among strictly partisan — not to mention religious — camps.

Depending on which critic is cited, “Passion” is either “the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of WWII” (Jami Bernard of the New York Daily News) and “a two-hour-and-six-minute snuff movie that thinks it’s an act of faith” (David Edelstein of Slate) or it’s a “serious, handsome, excruciating film that radiates total commitment” (Richard Corliss of Time) and “the Jesus movie for this era” (Todd McCarthy of Variety).

Polemic aside, no one who has seen this film can deny its visceral impact, due in no small measure to its excessive violence. For director Mel Gibson, the sword is mightier than the pen, as this film — not unlike his Oscar-winning “Braveheart” — has not only survived critical attacks and raging controversy, but is also one of the year’s most profitable.

Released in February, the $25 million Bible epic has grossed $609 million worldwide. And nothing in Hollywood spells winner more than box-office gold, which certainly aided “Titanic’s” cruise to 11 Academy Awards as well as last year’s 11-statue B.O. behemoth, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

But beyond the graphic bloodletting, Gibson can be credited with recruiting a creative team that demands this film be taken seriously. Jim Caviezel, who has been playing Christ-like figures since “The Thin Red Line” (1998), delivers a particularly haunting turn as Jesus. Other standout performances include Luca Lionello as tortured soul Judas, and Maia Morgenstern and Monica Bellucci, respectively, as Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalen.

But it’s four-time Oscar-nominated Caleb Deschanel’s color-saturated cinematography, with its rich chiaroscuro lighting, that might be the obvious standout here, while Maurizio Millenotti’s costumes give an authentic sense of period without sacrificing artistry and John Debney’s music mixes ancient instruments and choral singing in Aramaic with contemporary orchestral influences.

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