The Nativity Story
Review by Jack Foley
HAVING spent so much of its time chastising Hollywood for recent films such as The Da Vinci Code and The Passion Of The Christ, the Catholic Church now has something to embrace in the form of this earnest biblical epic.
The Nativity Story is Catherine Hardwicke’s visually sumptuous retelling of the birth of Jesus Christ and it’s an extremely accomplished affair.
But as worthy as the film remains, there’s the sneaking suspicion that a little more risk could have made for a much richer experience.
Hardwicke is, of course, best known for directing controversial teen flick, Thirteen, as well as the skateboarding drama Lords Of Dogtown, so it’s surprising to find her playing things quite so safe.
The Nativity Story essentially chronicles the arduous journey of Mary (played by Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac), both spiritual and physical, as they travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to give birth to the new Messiah.
It follows the circumstances surrounding Mary’s immaculate conception and King Herod’s subsequent attempts to find and kill the young child.
And it includes the three wise men and the story of Elizabeth, who gave birth to John The Baptist.
Hardwicke’s direction displays a keen eye for detail, especially in the day to day nitty gritty of life, and it looks and feels authentic.
But it passes on the chance to really emphasise the violence of the era and seems more content to create the perfect Christmas card finale while remaining vigorously close to Sunday school teachings.
A little more emphasis on the hardships posed by Herod’s tyranny or the Roman occupation might have enabled the film to work on a more emotional level, rather than merely going through the motions.
Instead, Hardwicke opts for rolling thunder and slow-motion shots of Romans wielding swords on horseback to hint at the dark deeds being carried out – a ploy that makes such scenes feel over-directed.
In terms of performance, the film is similarly uneven. Castle-Hughes (of Whale Rider fame) doesn’t always portray the confusion and fear that she suggests in her portrayal of Mary, while turning the three wise men into comic relief feels more than a little misguided.
Isaac does, however, instil Joseph with the noble qualities required and really provides the film with its emotional heartbeat, while Ciaran Hinds makes a good, sneering Herod.
Given the state of religion in the world today, it’s good to be reminded of how it can be used to bring hope and salvation to people in crisis (no matter what creed).
For that reason alone, The Nativity Story remains worth seeing, as well as providing a heart-warming message for the religiously inclined at an appropriate time of year.
Running time: 1hr 40mins