After the astonishing box-office success of The Passion of the Christ back in 2006, it was a certainty that the big Hollywood studios would continue to mine the faith genre. And so hot on the heels of Mary Magdalene, comes Paul, Apostle of Christ, a new movie released by Affirm Films, a division of Sony Pictures.
As emperor Nero's murderous reign over Rome continues, Paul (James Faulkner), revered as an important leader of Christians, is languishing in Mamertine Prison. He is confined to his subterranean cell, seeing daylight only when he is lashed in the yard. His final sentence will be execution by beheading.
Enter Greek doctor, Luke (Jim Caviezel), who after creeping clandestinely through Rome, heads for the compound of Aquila (John Lynch) and Priscilla (Joanne Whalley). The couple secretly harbour many Christians, and in light of Nero's tyranny against them, are currently deciding whether to stay and fight in some way against the Romans or give up and flee the city.
Luke arrives at the compound and armed with forged papers to ensure safe passage, sets out to visit Paul in prison. Paul gives Luke messages to pass on to the faithful, including relating his own past as Saul of Tarsus who fought the followers of Jesus Christ. Paul recounts his subsequent conversion to Christ's teachings on the road to Damascus.
With the Christians housed in Aquila and Priscilla's hideout getting increasingly nervous - Nero's bloodletting is sure to continue - some of them talk about fighting back. Luke, conveying Paul's wisdom, plays the leader and urges everyone to keep the faith. A twist comes when the governor of Paul's prison, Mauritius (Olivier Martinez), reveals his daughter is dying. As her condition worsens, Mauritius begins seeking advice from Paul.
Directed by Andrew Hyatt, Paul, Apostle of Christ benefits from some fine performances. Jim Caviezel's Luke is compelling, as is James Faulkner's earnest and robust rendering of Paul. The supporting cast also do better than average jobs.
The cinematography and backdrops (the movie was shot in Malta) are also extremely slick. The flashbacks of Paul on the road to Damascus are rendered vividly and are the most memorable scenes of the film.
The biggest let down, and what will keep the film from an audience outside of believers, is the story. It's kind of flimsy to begin with but the storyline to do with Mauritius' sick daughter is like something from a bad midday movie.
Either way, Paul, Apostle of Christ will draw a loyal audience of followers. And this won't be the last time Hollywood pursues that audience.