Film Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ

Faith-based film tells how Luke, a physician and evangelist, visits Christian leader Paul in prison, where he awaits execution.
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Pious but dramatically weak, Paul, Apostle of Christ focuses on the early Christian leader at the end of his days. It's a peculiar angle for someone who led such an eventful life, reducing most of the movie to long, poorly staged religious talks. Even the faithful will have a hard time making it to the end.

From the historical record and his own writings, Paul was a difficult personality and a thorny thinker. By the time the movie catches up with him, he had already founded dozens of churches in communities stretching across the Mediterranean basin. That's after an earlier life in which he persecuted Christians relentlessly.

As played by James Faulkner, Paul is a beaten-down man leaning on faith to face torture and death. He's joined in prison by his old friend Luke (Jim Caviezel), a physician and writer whose Greek background helps him slip past Roman guards.

It's a time of harsh persecution, with Christians routinely burned in the streets and killed in Emperor Nero's barbaric games. Luke stays in a Christian ghetto with Priscilla (Joanne Whalley) and Aquila (John Lynch), always alert to attacks from soldiers and the public.

A new prison prefect, Mauritius Gallas (Oliver Martinez), questions Paul, who has been blamed by Nero for fires that destroyed much of Rome. But Mauritius is more concerned about his sick daughter at home than an elderly prisoner.

And that's about it in terms of a story for Paul, Apostle of Christ. There are moments of leaden banter between Paul and Luke ("Peter's snoring? I won't miss that."), and many long sermons reworked a bit from scripture. Something of a miracle occurs, although the movie would be far more interesting if it hadn't. You want to test faith? See what happens when your prayers aren't answered.

Director Andrew Hyatt and producer T.J. Berden worked together on Full of Grace, a 2015 faith-based movie that also focused on the final days of a religious icon, in that case Mary of Nazareth. Their approach to filmmaking could be summed up as "slower is better." Brooding close-ups, long tracks through nondescript sets, an overdose of landscape shots. Paul's famous conversion takes place in a slow-motion flashback shot so tightly that the scene loses all meaning.

Paul's doctrines have played an outsized role in Christian theology, and while you can cherry-pick some pretty indefensible statements from him, no one's going to be upset by the theology in this movie—the opposite of what the evangelist would have wanted.

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