The Young Messiah: One-dimensional problem

The Young Messiah stars Sara Lazzaro as Mary and Adam Greaves-Neal as the boy Jesus.
The Young Messiah stars Sara Lazzaro as Mary and Adam Greaves-Neal as the boy Jesus.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Scenes showing Jesus working miracles are handled in a low-key way, but villains in this "imagined history" are over-the-top

REVIEW / PERIOD DRAMA

THE YOUNG MESSIAH (PG)

111 minutes/Opens tomorrow /2/5 stars

The story: In this imagined history of Jesus as a boy, he (Adam Greaves-Neal) is shown to be a boy unaware of his divine nature. His parents Joseph (Vincent Walsh) and Mary (Sara Lazzaro) have to deal with his questions.

If aliens landed here this Easter week, they would think that the deities being honoured were Batman and Superman, such is the saturation marketing.

But not every screen this week will feature men in lycra.

One of the few movies to squeak through - and, some would argue, the inspiration for much comic- book mythology - is this depiction of Jesus. More specifically, it is his sliver of life as a boy, based on the 2005 Anne Rice novel, Christ The Lord: Out Of Egypt.

It is called an "imagined history" because texts from the period are largely silent on the time between Jesus' birth and adulthood. You might say that novel and this movie are fan fiction because they do the same job - they exercise some - liberties to fill in blanks and make the lives of people from another time and culture relatable.

The engine that drives the narrative is the mystery of Jesus' being. The boy (Greaves-Neal) has powers that fill the people around him with awe and fear, but he himself has no idea how he can be so special as he is just the son of a carpenter, Joseph (Walsh), and Mary (Lazzaro).

It is one of the oldest premises in the movies, indeed of all story- telling - a child comes of age, proving by his works of wonder that he is the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy.

As tropes go, it is not new, but it has the potential to be interesting, if explored with a sense of adventure. That quality is nowhere in the script or dialogue.

Scenes that show Jesus working miracles are handled in such a low- key way by director Cyrus Now- rasteh (The Stoning Of Soraya M., 2008) that it feels as if the helmer is afraid of the material.

That restraint is horribly at odds with the scenes featuring the villains - the Romans (personified in the character of soldier Sean Bean), the Jewish king, Herod (Jonathan Bailey) as well as a demon (Rory Keenan).

Their bits are Jesus Christ Superstar-level over-the-top.

The mascara-ed demon slinks and purrs like a street magician filming a television special; Herod is pouty and elegantly wasted, glam rock-style; and the Romans are Nazi bullies from a low-budget war movie.

This indie production is driven by religious faith. There is nothing wrong with that; great art can come from great faith.

The problem here is not its one- sidedness, but its one-dimensionality.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'One-dimensional problem'. Print Edition | Subscribe