Do we need another Sunday school lesson?

Do we need another Sunday school lesson?

Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ

(M) Jim Caviezel, James Faulkner, Olivier Martinez, Joanne Whalley

After Jesus, the most significant and polarising individual in the Bible’s New Testament is Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul (James Faulkner). His letters have helped to mould the lives of Christians throughout the centuries and have been the catalyst for a multitude of theological debates. Paul was writing most of the epistles while he was in jail. The credit for their pre-internet delivery and protection goes to God directing many faithful individuals to getting these words of the apostle out for the world to read.

The latest biographical sketch of the man who turned from a brutal persecutor of Christians to one of the most influential voices of the faith focuses on the final stage of Paul’s life. After the great fire of Rome, Paul and the followers of Christ are blamed for the disaster. Paul is eventually arrested and beaten in prison. As a prisoner under a death sentence in the infamous Mamertine Prison in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero, he sits and awaits execution.

Luke (Jim Caviezel) strives to find the remnant of Christ followers and information on Paul before his execution. Once the physician realises the desperate state of Paul and the community, Luke determines to transcribe the final words of Paul before his death. During this time of exceptional historical significance, he must navigate past the hatred of the Roman people and the fear of the Christians. Luke must also try to convince Mauritius (Olivier Martinez), prefect of Mamertine Prison, that his actions are beneficial for the Roman leader and the society the military leader holds in such high regard.

Affirm Films, the faith-based arm of Sony Pictures, has been working over the years since the success of The Passion of the Christ to deliver biblical stories to modern audiences. Lifting the quality of the Christian film industry by providing better casting options and getting the financial backing that raises the production value. The production team has delivered various quality projects like Risen and All Saints to the lower calibre options like The Star.

Paul, Apostle of Christ proves that even with a robust cast and quality visual effects, this film falls somewhere in the middle of previous Affirm productions.

The drama surrounding the events during the time of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome makes for compelling history with climactic elements that came to define the early church. Jim Caviezel, James Faulkner, Olivier Martinez, and Joanne Whalley deliver strong performances that help to move the narrative along and show the impact of the history as it unfolds on screen.

The difficulty with the script and the overall experience is the unfortunate method that has been the weakness of this genre for years, trying to do too much. Instead of focusing on one aspect of Paul’s life, writer and director Andrew Hyatt (Full of Grace) attempts to show Paul’s backstory, the difficulties of the church and the drama in prison. Yet Hyatt still tries to show every element of the Gospel message in one film. The script becomes cumbersome and the production collapses under the weight of all that the writer is trying to convey. In an attempt to show all that was going on during that era, it becomes difficult to determine what the central story is of the film.

Paul, Apostle of Christ becomes a mature version of a Sunday School lesson where all of the class members can play a game of ‘guess where the Paul quote is in the Bible.’ Providing Christians with an example of how the Bible is still relevant, but forgetting that those outside the faith may not know the story of Paul. Despite opening the door to discussions on this fascinating historical figure, it does not offer anything intriguing enough for those outside of the church faith to be interested.

What should I know about Paul? 

The film shows how Luke was able to write the book of Acts, especially the episodes that involved Paul directly. Both characters prove to be some of the most significant to the development of Christianity. Luke was a meticulous historian and provides some of the most significant elements of the growth of this faith. His rendition of Jesus’ biography and the story of the Acts of the Apostles are a great place to start the journey of discovery of Jesus and his followers. For those unfamiliar with the story of Paul the persecutor and his conversion go to Acts 8-9 to engage with the beginning of his journey.

The Gospel of Luke I Acts of the ApostlesActs 8-9

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger.


1 thought on “Do we need another Sunday school lesson?”

  1. Finally saw this film, on DVD, this weekend. Well, I saw part of it.

    It is so bad we turned it off well before the end. The hour I saw had little to do with Paul and focused on the efforts of Luke to get to see the imprisoned Paul and an imagined, fictitious conflict between Aquila and Priscilla about whether to leave Rome. That’s not what I paid for!

    Poor acting and less than clear enunciation, of what was a hopeless script, felt me feeling nothing but disappointment.

    I’ll turn to NT Wright’s biography of Paul instead!

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