Film review: Paul: The Apostle of Christ

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. Today is Friday, March 23rd. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. A new movie is out called Paul, The Apostle of Christ. Megan Basham is here now with a review.

MEGAN BASHAM, REPORTER: In our so-called golden age of television, big visions and even bigger budgets are expended to bring sweeping historical epics to life. But one of my constant gripes is that no one has successfully developed a show based on the Bible. It’s especially galling because I’ve seen several decent Bible films in the last few years that would have made outstanding TV series. The latest case in point—Paul, The Apostle of Christ, which hits theaters today.

Certainly Paul’s story works as a movie, especially thanks to the acting talent of Jim Caviezel and veteran British character actor James Falkner playing Luke and Paul.  And there’s plenty of high historically-accurate drama to keep the story riveting. Like the threat of Emperor Nero and his bloody circuses and Roman candles fueled with the bodies of Christians.

AUDIO: This is a world in the grip of evil. This is Nero’s circus. It’s passionate hate. Blood washing down the street. Widows, orphans starving to death. Babies born with the slightest defect are disposed, dispatched, discarded. This world doesn’t know a thing about love. So you would give up on the world when Christ did not give up on us? Why not!? Luke! Why not!? Love is the only way. 

Unfortunately, there’s so much to unpack in such a short time, it’s hard to feel invested in any one storyline, including Paul’s.  

But what is presented is very well executed from a performance and production standpoint. And it mines fresh tension out of material that can sometimes feel old-hat to long-time churchgoers.  Like what early believers like Aquila and Priscilla must have experienced in deciding whether to stay in Rome or scatter to safer cities.

AUDIO: As Paul has said, we must each make our decision.

Then there are the temptations the early church faced that we still battle today—whether to look for worldly solutions to oppression and discrimination.

AUDIO: Keep your voice down. What did you say? Luke has been thrown into prison. And I’ve gathered men willing to storm that prison and free them. To what end, Cassius? Justice! Think of how foolish Nero will look having lost the man he accused of burning down Rome. Listen closely. All of you, listen to me closely. Some of you may want to stay in the city and some of you may want to leave. But if any of you, any of you, take up arms you have no place in this community.

Perhaps most intriguing is seeing Paul reflect back on his time as the persecuting Saul of Tarsus and struggle through prayer to “forget what is past” so he can press on toward the goals God has laid before him.

AUDIO: Stephen was out in the streets bringing charity to widows and orphans, preaching truth to drunks and the cripples. I was blameless in the ancient law of Israel while Stephen was blaspheming on the very ground of God. Blasphemy. I heard his final words even amongst the roar of the crowd, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Even in death, a final blasphemy on his lips. In that moment I vowed to destroy all those who spoke of this Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.

All gripping stuff, but it’s a lot of ground to cover.  And that doesn’t begin to address a subplot involving the disgraced Roman official with a dying daughter who happens to be guarding Paul.  

Still, because the script mines intriguing elements of Paul’s story we haven’t often seen before but are reasonably extrapolated from Scripture, it’s a good viewing choice for the Easter season.  Writer/director Andrew Hyatt even works some awesome inside Bible jokes into the dialogue. Like when Luke hands Paul money donated from his plant churches and quips, “Even the Corinthians gave generously, if you can believe it.”

But you can’t help imagining what the story could have been if it were told in a long-form medium like television or a streaming series.  This would have allowed each compelling thread the movie only flits over to be developed with far greater complexity and character development. Of course, it would only work if the networks hired writers and producers who care about accurately reflecting the spirit of the Bible.  As opposed to what ABC and NBC did with their failed attempts to adapt King David’s story.

Both of those weird, soulless interpretations were developed by people who were clearly uncomfortable with David’s relationship with God and so left it out almost entirely.  

Paul’s story, as this film proves, has enough drama, emotion, and spectacle to capture any binge-watcher.  I’ll happily take the two hours it offers. But I’d love to have more.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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