The Nativity Story Review
By Shawn McKenzie 12/03/2006
Back in the days of yore 2000 years or so ago in the town of Nazareth, King Herod (Ciarán Hinds) hears of a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah who will someday overthrow him. That freaks him out, so he has his soldier Tero (Said Amadis) kill all male children under two years old in the city of Bethlehem. He’s kind of a jerk anyway, because he overtaxes everyone. If they can’t pay in the form of currency, then his soldiers take their daughters. Joaquim (Shaun Toub) and Anna (Hiam Abbass) don’t want it to come to that, so they marry off their daughter Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) to Joseph (Oscar Isaac), an older man that Mary barely knows and does not love (yet.) She isn’t allowed to consummate her marriage for at least a year though, so she goes off to an ancient olive grove to collect her thoughts. While doing that, she is visited by the Archangel Gabriel (Alexander Siddig), who tells her that she has been chosen by God to become pregnant with the Son of God…Jesus. She blindly believes Gabriel and accepts her mission, but she doesn’t know how to tell her parents…because she knows that no one will believe that she became pregnant when she has yet to be with a man. She decides to visit her cousin Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who was visited by the same Archangel who told her that the barren woman would bear a child (who would go onto become John the Baptist.) Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah (Stanley Townsend) was struck dumb when he received the news (he regained his voice once John was circumcised.) It gives Mary a little relief that she isn’t the only one to have an odd pregnancy, but when she gets back to Nazareth, her family and Joseph don’t believe her at first. In fact, Joseph is almost about to join in the stoning of Mary (pregnant unmarried women were stoned back in that day), but he is visited by everyone’s favorite Archangel, who tells confirms Mary’s story. Joseph resolves to become a loving, supportive husband from then on, and Mary starts to fall in love with him for accepting her. Herod decides that the infanticide isn’t working, so he orders that a census be taken…which means that everyone has to go home to their hometown (in the case of Joseph, that town would be Bethlehem), which he believes will help him find the Messiah. Joseph and Mary set off on a one hundred mile journey to Bethlehem…hoping that they can avoid Herod’s soldiers. Meanwhile, the Magi…Melchior the scholar (Nadim Sawalha), Balthasar the Ethiopian astronomer (Eriq Ebouaney), and Gaspar (Stefan Kalipha) the translator…also know of the coming of the Messiah. Melchior convinces his fellow Wise Men to follow a star to Bethlehem, because that is where they will witness the birth of the King of Kings. Anyone who has seen a Christmas pageant knows what happens next.
I have stated many times on this site that I’m not a religious person, but I found The Nativity Story a little more inspiring and entertaining than a certain film directed by Mad Max.
When I watched director Catherine Hardwicke’s telling of the birth of Jesus (using a screenplay written by Mike Rich, who penned the scripts for 2000’s Finding Forrester, 2002’s The Rookie, and 2003’s Radio), I couldn’t help but think of Mel Gibson’s tale of the death of Jesus, 2004’s The Passion of the Christ. That movie was long, boring, and brutally violent. I guess…for me…it was more entertaining to see a tale of a life that would go on to do good in the years that followed. Passion marked the end of his life, which might be inspiring for some, but not for me.
I found it ironic that Hardwicke was the one who did this movie. Her first movie, 2003’s R-rated Thirteen, was a disturbing tale of female teenage rebellion. 2005’s PG-13-rated Lords of Dogtown, a skateboarding flick set in the ‘70s, wasn’t nearly as good, but it certainly wasn’t a family-friendly film either. Nativity is her third film, and...besides some off-camera violence ordered by Herod...this is a movie that the whole family could check out. Well…except for some thematic elements that might stir up endless questions from the kids to the parents (mainly the concept of the Immaculate Conception), but kids taught these things in Bible school would know what’s up with that (I’m assuming…I’ve never been to Bible school myself.)
Unlike Passion, there is nothing in it that should stir up any controversy. Hardwicke took great pains to make a very respectful tale of the Nativity (from what I heard, it follows the tale mostly told in the Gospel of Matthew, and some in the Gospel of Luke), but she may have made it a little too safe. From the woman who made Thirteen, I guess I would have hoped that it would have been a little less family-friendly. In fact, the only controversy is that the actress playing Mary, 16-year-old Castle-Hughes, is pregnant herself in real life by her 19-year-old boyfriend. Personally I don’t care, but I listened to my colleague Reggie McDaniel’s radio show last weekend, and some callers were saying that they wouldn’t go see it because of that fact. If I can see couch-jumping nut Tom Cruise star in the best installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise so far, I can accept the Whale Rider actress’s non-immaculate conception.
One big thing that’s a little distracting though is the Three Wise Men (or We Three Kings…or whatever.) They are played for comic relief…but they aren’t funny. Do we really need comic relief in this story? Are there any preachers in any church around the country telling tales about three goofballs giving Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh?
The Nativity Story may not be the most entertaining Christmas movie ever, but it is better than some of the crappy and semi-crappy seasonal flicks that have come out this year…like The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Deck the Halls, and Unaccompanied Minors (the last of which I’m only basing on some stupid-looking trailers…I haven’t seen the movie itself yet.) At the very least, you can watch a movie that might give you some hope rather than a movie about the torture of that same man who gave you that hope.
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