Fifteen years after Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, director Garth Davis offers a sort of spiritual and tonal counterpoint: a Jesus story that stresses what might be called the more feminine aspect of his visit to earth — told, fittingly enough, through his relationship with the woman whom the Gospels say was the first witness to his resurrection. Where Gibson made a visceral action drama that sought to illustrate the prophetic claim, “He was crushed for our transgressions; by his stripes we were healed,” Davis has produced a muted, stately mood piece that concentrates on Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with the titular Magdalene being the first to grok the idea that it must be a spiritual — if still earthly — kingdom, built by acts of love and mercy instead of revolution and violence. (Here, she is opposed by both Peter, who thinks he’s joining a rebellion, and Judas, who longs for the return of the his beloved dead.) As Mary, Rooney Mara gets to do a lot of wide-eyed gazing — in love, in awe, in confusion, and in sorrow — and Joaquin Phoenix manages to get at the strangeness that a God-man probably would have radiated. Both do better when they’re not speechifying — the script tends to skew oddly modern in manner of expression — and are left to get on with the work of salvation. It’s a well-meaning, good-looking effort — but those elements don’t necessarily make for good watching. One needs to be in the mood for this sort of thing.
Length: 2 hours