Reviewers in the US and the UK have had mixed feelings about Mel Gibson's controversial religious film, The Passion of the Christ.
The New Yorker
For two hours we watch, stupefied as a handsome, strapping, at times half-naked young man is slowly tortured to death. Gibson is thoroughly fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ and is so meagerly involved in the spiritual meanings of the final hours, that he falls in danger of altering Jesus's message of love into one of hate.
Daily Variety, Hollywood industry paper
If an age produces the renditions of classic stories that reflect those times, then The Passion of the Christ, which is violent, contentious, emotional, extreme and highly proficient, must be the Jesus movie for this era. It is also gravely intense and the work of a man as deeply committed to his subject as one could hope for or, for that matter, want.
The Chicago Sun-Times
It's the only religious movie I've seen, with the exception of The Gospel According to St Matthew by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, that really seems to deal with what actually happened. This is the most powerful, important and by far the most graphic interpretation of Christ's final hours ever put on film. Mel Gibson is a masterful storyteller, and this is the work of his lifetime.
Relentlessly savage, The Passion plays like the Gospel according to the Marquis de Sade. The film that has been getting rapturous advance raves from evangelical Christians turns out to be an R-rated inspirational movie no child can, or should, see. To these secular eyes at least, Gibson's movie is more likely to inspire nightmares than devotion.
The Los Angeles Times
The problem with The Passion's violence is not merely how difficult it is to take, it's that its sadistic intensity obliterates everything else about the film. Worse than that, it fosters a one-dimensional view of Jesus, reducing his entire life and world-transforming teachings to his sufferings, to the notion that he was exclusively someone who was willing to absorb unspeakable punishment for our sins.
The Boston Globe
Gibson, who appears to suggest that Jesus the carpenter invented the modern dining table, seems determined to prove that Jesus suffered more than anyone who has ever lived, a tiresomely literal argument at best, an exercise in sadomasochistic bullying at worst. Gibson, whose Christ complex is apparent in many of his movies (Mad Max, Conspiracy Theory, Hamlet, Braveheart), may dream of being crucified.
But all he does here is flagellate the audience.
The Hollywood Reporter, industry newspaper
In early scenes and the flashback, Caviezel has the look and gravity to portray the warm and compassionate rabbi that Jesus was. But we get only these snippets of his humanity. (One bizarre flashback focuses solely on his former occupation, that of a carpenter.) More troubling is Gibson's decision to make Jesus into a victim of political intrigue, thus denying him his martyrdom. Gibson's intense concentration on the scourging and whipping of the physical body virtually denies any metaphysical significance to the most famous half-day in history.
The Daily Telegraph, UK
Throughout the film, the violence and bloodletting is interspersed with flashbacks to Jesus as a working carpenter, with his mother, preaching to the disciples and at the Last Supper. But the respites are all too brief and after each interlude Gibson harshly pulls the viewers back to the horrors of the persecution.
Screen International, industry newspaper
Gibson has delivered a genuinely startling and traumatic vision of the final 12 hours in the life of Christ filled with the directorial flourishes and command of craft which weren't so readily on show in Braveheart. Is it more than a one-trick-pony? Perhaps not. It risks monotony in a couple of stretches, it rarely attempts characterisation and it follows the gospels, dare one say it, religiously. But there is something compulsive in watching the spectacle of Christ's agonies, rather like a public execution in days of old, especially when you know that the ending, finally, will be a happy one.