Killing Jesus
by Phil Boatwright

FILM SYNOPSIS: The National Geographic Channel presents Killing Jesus this Sunday, March 29th at 8/7C. Based on the New York Times best-seller by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, the film, featuring Haaz Sleiman as the Nazarene, offers a look at the culture and political and social unrest during our Lord’s time on Earth.

PREVIEW REVIEW: O’Reilly and his associate Martin Dugard have had much success writing about the lives of men who had an enormous impact on our world, including JFK, Lincoln, and Patton. The “spin” on this subject was that Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Dugard set out to prove Jesus actually lived, dwelling more on Him as a man who changed history than focusing on the miraculous aspects of His ministry. Indeed, the book is replete with documented information that reliably proves that He was here, that He had a following, and that He was crucified. The film is a different matter.

You’d think the producers would have used a documentary format, incorporating the writings of men like Josephus, a 1st century Roman-Jewish historian whose manuscripts included references to Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Instead, they opted to make their tele-movie one more dramatic interpretation of Christ’s time on Earth. This may have been an ill-conceived direction, as that tactic has been done to death and done better.

The first time we see Jesus as a man he walks up to his cousin, John the Baptist, who immediately identifies him as the savior of the world. But throughout the scene, Jesus has this quizzical look, as if not truly understanding who He is or what He came for.

I understand a filmmaker’s dilemma when recounting a historical figure. You can’t just show Lincoln or JFK as flawless paragons. To give a character dimension, you must include indecision, angst and even flaws to offset his attributes. This allows us mere mortals to related to the screen presentations of the Washingtons, the Churchills and others who had greatness thrust upon them. The only figure a filmmaker can’t show shortcoming in is Jesus Christ. He was unique, for He was all man and He was all God. If the Gospels are actually read and adhered to by those attempting to flesh them out in cinematic form, it’s impossible to come to the conclusion that Jesus didn’t know who He was.

  • John 10:30 – “I and the Father are one.”
  • John 14:6 – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
  • John 8: 14 – “Jesus told them, “Those claims are true even thought I make them concerning myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going…”
  • He did things and said things in order to fulfill prophecy, but through it all, He knew who He was and His purpose.
  • In Luke 2:49, a 12-year-old Jesus answered his parents’ query when they couldn’t find him, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

My take on Killing Jesus should not misinterpreted as a suggestion to avoid the presentation. What else you gonna watch Sunday night - a reality show that has nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of life? How about a sitcom that garners most of its laughs from the boorish and the crude? Or, how about another crime show? As if you hadn’t seen enough of those throughout the week?

I thought Killing Jesus had decent production values despite its apparent low budget; there were solid performances from the leads, and it may leave some wanting to discover the whole story. That’s not bad for a made-for-TV movie. But along with this production, I would offer up the following presentations:

(2004). Mel Gibson’s brutal, yet undeniably artistic rendering of the final hours of Christ’s life, blew away skeptics when it earned over $350 million at the box office. Aided by superb cinematography, lighting, music, some dynamic special effects and Jim Caviezel’s sincere and muted performance, director Mel Gibson brings a mood and sensitivity never before captured when telling the story of the Christ. Justly rated R for its graphic depiction of scourging, piercing, beating, and crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ is meant to shock, unnerve, and clarify the ordeal of Christ’s sacrifice. But Mel’s film, while showing the physical horrors Christ endured, is not really about what mankind did to Him, but about what He did for us.

JESUS OF NAZARETH (1977). Franco Zeffirelli's epic production of the life of Christ is considered by many as the best film about the Son of Man. It is acclaimed for its thorough biblical and historical research. A very moving and spiritual experience, with many memorable performances, including those of Robert Powell, Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, and Laurence Olivier. Its length (371 min.) will take a couple evenings to digest, but I recommend the effort.

COTTON PATCH GOSPEL (1988). Actually a taped stage production, this musical comedy/drama places the Gospel of Matthew in modern-day Georgia, with Jesus born in Gainesville. Funny, inspirational, with lively music by Harry Chapin. Ask your Christian bookstore to order it from Bridgestone Production Group.

(2000). With the use of Claymation and graphically striking two-dimensional animation, ABC aired this family-friendly version of the story of Jesus on Easter several years ago. As a sick little girl encounters Jesus through different stages of His life, we are given a remarkably accurate retelling of Christ’s ministry.