The Young Messiah (2016) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast: Adam Greaves-Neal, Sean Bean, Vincent Walsh, Sara Lazzarro, Christian McKay, Jonathan Bailey, Rory Keenan
Director: Cyrus Nowrasteh
Screenplay: Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, Cyrus Nowrasteh (based on the book, "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt", by Anne Rice)
Review published March 14, 2016
Based on the 2005 Anne Rice novel, "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt", The Young Messiah is a fictional work that seeks to represent a year in the life of Jesus when he was a seven-year-old boy. As a movie that tries to tread the line between Christian audiences, fans of the Rice work, and your average movie-goer hoping for an interesting film, it is a respectable effort that falls short, primarily because most of us already know the story of Jesus' birth as well, as what comes later. As much of this film's story consists of allusions to those well-known events that come before and after, and we know that no actual harm is going to befall Jesus, Mary, or Joseph, there's no tension or intrigue, leaving only the way it spins its yarn of interest, rather than the subject of the yarn itself.
Cyrus Nowrasteh (The Stoning of Soraya M. The Island) directs and very loosely adapts the Rice novel with his wife Betsy (Bad Day on the Block), starting off the film with young Jesus (Greaves-Neal, Death Machine 666) with his family, having fled to Egypt due to a decree by Herod the Great to find the child that had managed to escape slaughter as a babe seven years back. At this point in his life, Jesus isn't yet aware of his divine identity, having recently been able to resurrect a dead bird, but not knowing what this means.
While in Egypt, Jesus has his first run-in with a crafty Demon (Keenan, The Brothers Grimsby) who is trying to alter events to turn people against the young Son of God, resulting in circumstances that cause Jesus to employ his ability to raise the dead yet again. Meanwhile, as Herod's reported death clears the coast for the family for the long road back to their home in Nazareth, Roman Centurion named Severus (Bean, The Martian) is tasked by Herod's new reigning son (Bailey, Elizabeth: The Golden Age), also called Herod, with investigating the whereabouts of the boy, and, if found, putting an end to his life. Along the way, Jesus finally confronts the hows and whys of what makes him different than other little boys his age.
Fitting in with the rampant trend toward Anglicizing all aspects of films set in Egypt or the Middle East, The Young Messiah is cast with mostly caucasian British actors, who all deliver lines in English. This could be excusable as a necessary marketing decision, if not for the fact that the Jewish, Egyptian and Roman people all speak the same language without any explanation whatsoever. Jesus is portrayed by Adam Greaves-Neal, who seems sweet, kind and innocent, and is certainly child movie-star cute enough to land the role among an estimated 2,000 young boys who tried out for the role, but his portrayal is often stiff and comes off a bit whinier than perhaps most would prefer from their messiahs. In a certain way, the Jesus character this compares to most is that of young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace, except without the pod race, action sequence interludes, and eye-popping special effects. On the plus side, at least there's no Jar Jar.
People who regularly take in films of Christian faith will likely be much more tolerant of the somewhat stagnant presentation than those who don't, primarily because so many faith-based films are pretty awful comparatively. The locales (shot in Italy), sets, costumes, and other production values don't feel especially skimpy, and some of the performances are fine in a few key roles. Parents who are trying to instill more curiosity among their kids in the life and teachings of Jesus will enjoy that the film will make it somewhat relatable to them by portraying him as a young boy, though the PG-13 rating of the film for its not-especially graphic violence may be a little intense for those kids about the age of Jesus in this film or younger.
The only major problem with The Young Messiah, as a film, is that it's slow to build up, long to end, and interminably boring. The story of Jesus is one of the most oft-told and powerful stories for those of the Christian faith, so a film that purports to flesh out more of his 'early adventures' should feel like a major event, aka "The Greatest Story 'Never' Told". Instead, it's respectable yet unremarkable, playing more like a collection of the New Testament's deleted scenes.
©2016 Vince Leo