MOVIE REVIEW: Mary Magdalene film is a dull Bible lesson
MARY MAGDALENE (M)
Director: Garth Davis
Starring: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix
Verdict: A thoughtful but too-careful rehabilitation of Mary
MARY Magdalene puts its title character centre stage, righting a 2000-year-old wrong and restoring the "Apostle to the Apostles" to her proper place as a respected church elder.
The timing of Garth Davis's follow-up to his Oscar-nominated 2016 hit Lion is clearly impeccable.
However, the director fails in his delivery. For a film with so much at stake, this one is strangely lacking in passion.
Mary Magdalene's enduring public image, as a repentant prostitute, can be traced back to a homily delivered by Pope Gregory the Great in the 16th Century.
Contemporary scholars have found no biblical evidence to support his interpretation. They think he got his Marys mixed up.
Feminist theologians believe his erroneous reading has persisted over the intervening centuries because it suited the reigning patriarchs of an institution that even now resists the ordination of woman.
It's a compelling thesis, backed by hours of painstaking scholarly research.
And as one of the few women in the Bible not to be identified as someone's wife or mother, Mary is certainly a character worthy of re-examination.
But let's face it, the good book's Madonna/whore archetypes are naturally dramatic.
The reinterpreted story, at least in this version, feel almost drab by comparison.
As played by Rooney Mara, who was somewhat underused in Lion as Patel's girlfriend, Mary is devout, compassionate and deeply spiritual.
An early scene, in which she assists a terrified woman through a difficult birth, illustrates the depth of her faith - largely through those soulful brown eyes.
You don't doubt Mary's courage or integrity as she defies the wishes of the menfolk in her family, refusing marriage because it is not the life for her, following Jesus and his disciples in only the clothes she stands up in.
But she's not a particularly easy character to identify with.
Joaquin Phoenix isn't an obvious casting choice for the role of Jesus of Nazareth, either. His Christ is matted, battered, and quite obviously exhausted.
Watching this mercifully abbreviated journey through the Stations of the Cross, I was reminded of Mel Gibson's visceral, violent interpretation of the same events in The Passion Of the Christ, which focused on the man's suffering.
Mary Magdalene offers a more cerebral examination of faith.
At its heart is the bond the title character shared with Christ - one that caused jealously among the disciples.
But the filmmakers are so careful in their treatment of the central characters' relationship, it never really gels.
Mary Magdalene is a handsome film in its homespun simplicity and the central character's rehabilitation is long overdue. Unfortunately, it's also a little dull.
Mary Magdalene opens on Thursday.