Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

The mishmash of production values cobbled together to form the riveting political docudrama The Battle of Algiers is fitting in that it suggests the film itself is a product of revolution. Observing with equal intensity and human regard the opposing sides involved in the revolution against the French occupation of Algiers (officially known as the Algerian War of Independence) from 1954 to 1962, the film takes an objective look at the nature of terrorism and revolution amidst the social and political chaos in this modern world. A slight sympathy is lent to the Algerian rebels - appropriate in the light that the French occupation was truly an act of oppressive imperialism - but even then the film doesn’t shy away from the callous moral implications put forth by rebels ordered to plant bombs amidst crowded public locations (the documentary-like approach reaches it's most tense and gripping during these scenes of impending death). Both sides exchange various forms of violence in a continuing cycle: guerilla strikes and attacks against French officers lead to more aggressive safety measures that further oppress the people’s culture and religion. With neither side showing any sign of giving up, the bodies continue to mount on both sides, many of them innocent civilians willingly sacrificed as violent leverage in the name of war. Perhaps most illuminating is how The Battle of Algiers looks at the goings-on of revolution on both an all-encompassing and microcosmic level; as critical as a successful worker’s strike against the government is to the movement's influence, the actions of many individuals are just as crucial to the life blood of the resistance. With every attack and demonstration recreated with gritty realism, the film is a telling capsule on the nature of humanity within the constraints of political mire; one cannot watch without recognizing the parallels with the current U.S. occupation of Iraq and the ongoing struggle between the stationed troops and a minority of displeased insurgents. For those who feel that current situation is a fruitless effort to spread democracy to other regions of the world, one only need look at this film for proof of history’s tendency to repeat itself.

eXistenZ (1999)

A debate has raged for some time within internet circles of film and video games lovers since Roger Ebert stated, prompted by the adaptation of the classic first person shooter Doom, that video games are not art (with that movie being the subject for analysis, who can blame him?). My own personal stance is that video games are a blossoming art form, capable of such deeper emotional and intellectual capacities but little more than suave technical exercises at this point in time. Should the type of gaming depicted in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ ever come to pass, however, I think Ebert will gladly modify his stated opinion. Much like the neck-based ports used by the protagonists in The Matrix, the characters in eXistenZ hook up to their gaming units (themselves a sort of living organism, made from animal parts and organs) via spinally linked bio-ports, connecting them to the software directly through their nervous system. Experienced gamers should find much to savor through the film’s unique assessments on the nature of reality (interwoven with loving nods to video game clichés), complicated by a multi-layered plot that posits a famous software designer against radicals who want to put an end to her existentially-redefining technological labors of love. eXistenZ is viscerally and philosophically titillating in same the way that makes all of Cronenberg’s films both physically challenging and intellectually satisfying (here, in particular the sexual connotations suggested by the characters’ biological modifications), although the script isn’t willing to go nearly as far in probing the material as Cronenberg takes it with his striking visual flair. That flaw limits the film from its greater potentials, but Cronenberg certainly makes the most of the film’s intriguing opportunities.

X2 (2003)

While nowhere nearly as satisfying as Sam Raimi’s pristine Spider-Man 2 (or even Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins), the focus on character relationships and driving motivations is the key to Bryan Singer’s X2 being lifted above the marks of the average superhero sequel. More viscerally engaging than the laborious (and not very good) original X-Men, this part dues sees the previously opposing sides of outcast mutants (feared by society for their unique powers) joining together against an anti-mutant government official who aims to eradicate their kind from the planet. With Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) aiming to integrate humans and mutants in peaceful fashion and holocaust-survivor Magneto (Ian McKellen) working to separate the two races completely, the film suggests a social war waged between Martin Luther King, Jr. and a pre-enlightenment Malcolm X, although the current battle for gay rights acts as a more fitting modern comparison for “the mutant problem,” as is stated in the film. The multitude of characters is almost too much baggage for the film to handle in it’s two-hour running time, although it does come very close to managing them all with equal regard and depth (particularly the cigar-chomping Wolverine’s existential pangs, finely played by Hugh Jackman). X2 might be a bit too ho-hum for it’s own good in the end, but it’s earnest entertainment and acknowledgement of the audience’s capacity for intellectual and emotional involvement sets it well above the majority of summer’s typical popcorn fodder.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A History of Violence (2005)

Life in a rural American town is almost too good to be true in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, which posits the glossy sheen of its close-knit community against the personal and familial tribulations brought about by the undoing of a false identity maintained by one of its residents. Behind the purported behaviors and attitudes of both townsfolk and family members lie unexpressed feelings and hidden truths, whether they're actually conscious of it or not. While the film doesn't quite suggest that the American dream on display is all image and no substance, it makes it perfectly clear that all is not what it seems.

Take, for instance, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), loving husband, father of two, and esteemed business owner in his hometown of Millbrook, Indiana. When a pair of nomadic thugs hold up his diner one evening and threaten the lives of he and his customers, Tom's responsiveness, which finds both criminals dead by gunshot, is both deft and instinctive. Tom's skill with a firearm earns him the status of a local hero, an unfortunate fact when mobsters from Philadelphia show up at his diner and home, prompted by Tom's newfound popularity in the media. They know him as Joey Cusack, member of the Philadelphia mafia until he disappeared in the midst of bloodshed, changed his identity and set up a new life over a decade ago. Quickly, the structural basis for the life of both Tom and his family erodes away.

The malleable nature of identity is the life blood of A History of Violence, but the shock waves that register after Tom's past is revealed are the most compelling of its elements. Deceptively, the film's first act establishes the happiness of Tom's current life, only to be subjected to an existential schism when the past catches up with him. "I thought I killed Joey," pleads a torn Tom to Edie (Maria Bello), his distraught wife, upon his inability to maintain his guise any longer. The man she loves so deeply is still the same person, but her perception of him requires a complete overhaul, causing her to be simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by the muddled persona that happens to be her husband (most prominently displayed in a scene of spontaneous marital sex, at once loving, carnal and harboring intense resentment). We have no reason to question Tom's love for his family or the purity of his motives for starting his life over, but a responsibility for his past remains nonetheless, if only because who his is now is inseparable from who he once was.

Cronenberg's attentiveness to composition should come as no surprise, but that makes the film's visual reflection of its moods and relationships no less noteworthy. Everyday structures - a counter, a table, a curtain - act as signifiers of emotional disconnect, while the loaded shotgun in the Stall family living room, hastily removed from the closet, represents the uncovering of the past in response to present trauma. Meanwhile, paralleling more overly political cinematic dissertations on violence from this past year (Munich, Paradise Now), Tom is forced to tap into his otherwise repressed violent instincts in order to himself survive as well as to preserve the safety of his family, a trait handed down to his bullied son in typical ancestral fashion. Once out in the open, however, it doesn't take long for that same violence to turn inward, which is were the film's sense of ongoing struggle, long after the credits are over, finds its most potent outlet.

A History of Violence's rigorously intimate framing - positioning individuals as if we're only allowed to see what they choose to show - would be next to worthless without the affecting nature of its many complex, excellent performances. Maria Bello is the most immediately recognizable as a stricken and confused wife, devolved from someone without an ounce of concern as to the stability of her surroundings. Mortensen, on the other hand, has been unfairly overlooked for his skills; his performance is less boldly stated, but that's also because his character is in effect an actor as well, the multiple layers of his persona evident in his uneasy efforts at maintaining his behavioral camouflage, counteracted by his instinctive reactions to danger that betray his better efforts. In a final act appearance (so brief it just misses qualification as a cameo), John Hurt is perhaps provides what is perhaps the film's most savory performance, creating a wonderful character performance that makes this viewer wish an offshoot sequel were made for his persona alone.

Despite being named in the title, the violence in the film is less important thematically than it is as a means of disarming the audience with its horrific realism; shot through the back of his head, one of the would-be criminals at Tom's diner lies in a pool of his own blood, his jaw mangled, still half-conscious. By refusing to diminish the visual impressions Tom's actions leave, the film simultaneously removes the violence's typical quality of providing visceral entertainment as well as underscoring the scars that violence can leave on a family and community, whether through their occurrence in the present or their presence in history. While not as emotionally wrenching as, say, The Fly, the film continues to showcase Cronenberg's masterful knack for showing us those aspects of ourselves towards which we bear a natural aversion to. Through its restrained observation, A History of Violence peels away the layers we see daily to find the haunting truths concealed beneath.

Munich (2005)

A plethora of names – the cities to host the Olympic Games prior to 1972 – fill the screen in the opening frames of Munich. This textual myriad soon fades to black to reveal the film’s title, bathed in crimson red, followed by the disclaimer, “inspired by true events.” This moment emphasizes the weight of the tragedy to take place at the supposed festivity of world peace, as well as the necessary declaration that this is art, not history. The Olympics spanning the globe, however, also suggests that Munich's story is one deeply universal in nature. The hosting cities standing in for a sampling of the entire world, Munich emerges as but one of many similar stories throughout human history that, in the end, are really about the same thing. As regards history, the film is an examination of the nature of humanity, in this case, the darker aspects of violence, revenge, and death, rather than a regurgitated depiction of events passed. Some may disagree with Spielberg’s politics as expressed in Munich, but if there’s one thing the film certainly is not, it’s simple.

A longing for home is the central core to Spielberg’s powerful dissertation. The real-world conflict between Israel and anti-Semite Arabs provides the film’s dramatic backbone from which it can occasionally deviate, so it may look closer at the gritty humanity behind the events that unfold, for both the good and the bad. One side claims the need for a home after thousands of years of persecution, the other the home they once had, pulled out from under their feet. Both sides suffer casualties from the other, and both sides see fit to reprise the latest attack from their enemy. As Spielberg expresses through one of his characters: “There is no peace at the end of this.” But to protect oneself and ones family, violence is sometimes needed, whether as a means of protection, or dissuasion. But under what circumstances, and in what quantities? In the midst of asking these very difficult questions, Munich declares family and home as that which it is most allegiant to (even if, like a good dissenting citizen, it questions Israeli policy). To quote but one of many memorable statements from Spielberg's dialogue: “A place on Earth. At last, we have a place on Earth.”

After a team of eleven Palestinian terrorists take nine Israeli athletes hostage at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, ultimately killing them all before the eyes of the world, the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) knows that any act of reciprocation will only see more violence against their people. Yet to remain mute in the face of such a media-frantic tragedy would be to show a face of weakness. “Forget peace for now. We have to show them we’re strong.” Enter Avner (Eric Bana), an ex-soldier, Israeli-born Jew asked to lead a five-man mission to assassinate the eleven terrorists (members of the group Black September) behind the Munich massacre. He accepts the job, even with a seven-month pregnant wife waiting for him in Jerusalem. One by one, they hunt down and kill the individuals responsible for the massacre, even being well aware that those killed will have even more ruthless replacements. The pertinence of this timely issue is no coincidence, especially when one regards the simple visual statement in the final scene of the film. Can a war on terrorism be won? Or will the need eventual for non-violent dialogue be lost on those in conflict, even as the effects of vengeance become counter-productive?

In addition to deconstructing the taken-for-granted perceptions of violence and revenge, Munich also finds itself a disarming take on the relationship between the viewer and the film in it’s depiction of the assassinations to follow. Filmed with the skill of a master, they are riveting and enthralling, even as we’re horrified by man’s inhumanity to man in all its aspects. In one poignant scene, like the calm before a storm, Avner talks friendly with a Palestinian terrorist on a hotel balcony. The film declares no moral ambiguity between the “sides” shown at war, but acknowledges that even one’s enemy is almost always still human. When Avner’s team finds themselves occupying the same building as their future enemies (after an unexpected meeting and nerve-racking cease-fire), the discussions, both verbal and wordless, are illuminating. The most memorable of these is a quarrel over the radio station of choice; Steve and an equally stubborn Palestinian take turns changing the dial to their particular preference, back and forth, encapsulating the cyclical tendencies of exchanged violence and thus, their potential for sheer pointlessness.

The progression of violence and killings serve as the source of desensitization for the Israeli team members. Unsure of the reliability of his sources and employers (one of whom may be backed by the CIA), and in the midst of the deaths of several of his fellows, Avner’s once sturdy faith in Israel wanes in the face of fear for his and his families' safety. Avner loves Israel, but learns that blind allegiance to authority can just as readily cause death as it can prolong life. Amongst the fellow missionaries, the audience can gauge the spectrum of thoughts and feelings that exist on these shaky grounds. Steve (Daniel Craig – if this is film is any indication, a worthy addition to the Bond franchise) sees no worthwhile humanity in the enemies the film makes room to humanize: “The only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood.” Carl (Ciarán Hinds) seeks to retain his sanity in the midst of the bloodshed, where one’s humanity can naturally erode. Bomb maker Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) questions how true to their ideals their actions are: “We are supposed to be righteous! I lose that, that's my soul.” In shifting between moments of quiet thought and thrilling moments of visceral terror, Munich examines not only the relationship between the thought and the act, but between what is right and what is necessary. Evil is subjective here, the film wading deep in the murky grays of morality.

Many will be, and indeed, already have bee enraged by the political dialogue presented in Spielberg’s film. Many of these are only so because the film allows doubt to enter the equation of thoughts, and even though the film feels a deep love for Israel, that hasn’t stopped many Jewish scholars from practically expelling Spielberg from the community. Munich is the bravest film of Spielberg’s career, perhaps one of the bravest works of thoughtful art of all time. His choice to expose himself for criticism as the cost of getting these issues more into the open – and therefore more into the realm of thoughtful discourse – is brilliantly reflected in a sequence later in the film. Robert (who closely resembles a younger Spielberg – this is no coincidence), stricken with depression from his duties for Israel, takes leave to his cottage home to rest and recuperate. There, he tinkers with his bombs and gadgets, handling them, examining them, and deconstructing them (in essence, learning how these dangerous objects work). Not long after, one of them detonates (foreshadowed as a possible suicide, but never confirmed; hopefully the DVD commentary will clear this up). In short: Spielberg knows that he’ll ultimately touch off a nerve and take a lot of shit for doing so, but these topics and questions must be raised in the open if an answer is ever to be reached. The effect of controversy is often the mark of great art, and Munich finds a thinker, a filmmaker and a Jew offering up a work of personal introspection and anguish that’s says much about the world and the many peoples who occupy it. At the relatively moderate risk of some flack, it hopes to make it a better place.

North Country (2005)

Few things are more dramatically heinous than depicting complex and far-reaching social problems with such single-minded intensity so as to reduce the effect to pure propaganda. When a film depicts its events as occupying reality rather than commenting on it, the use of such broad generalizations and black and white us vs. them distinctions (while perhaps making things palatable for the cinematically retarded) renders any potentially valid points mute when one looks beyond the Lifetime cartoon antics at hand and out into the real world. In tackling the issue of gender relations and sexual abuse in a male-dominant workplace, North Country sees fit to define its characters almost exclusively by their status as either victim or victimizer (subtleties only allowed for weepy melodramatics – ladies and sensitive guys, get your tissues ready!). Charlize Theron’s Josey Aimes gets a job at the local mine to support her two children after leaving her abusive husband (enter the disapproving father and supportive mother for contrasting dramatic effect). There, the handful of female employees must endure the taunts and come-ons from the horny male populace on a daily basis in order to bring home the bacon. Bearing the mind-numbingly overused “based on a true story” label, North Country takes excessive dramatic liberties with the story of the real Lois Jensen and her class action lawsuit against the mining company; excessive not because adherence to fact is mandatory, but because the film ultimately lauds its “inspirational” appeal more than it’s half-assed examination of the turgid social and sexual climate it pillages for tears and applause from the audience. In the end, it’s all about “standing up,” while the utterly ridiculous build-up to the truncated conclusion may as well play out in a boxing ring. Director Niki Caro exquisitely examined female empowerment amidst oppressive cultural conditions in her wonderful Whale Rider; on the other hand, North Country condescends to its audience and reduces its characters to LCD-levels of complexity, negating the seriousness it feebly reaches for in the process. Josey ultimately triumphs, but only because her past experiences somehow validate her present battles as a freedom fighter, and, whaddya know, her nice male lawyer is accused of being gay at the local bar (so we know he's okay)! These are deep social plagues that demand serious thought and attention, yet North Country would have you believe it’s no more complex than a playground quarrel between boys, girls, and cooties.

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Familial dysfunction is the accepted norm in Noam Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical The Squid and the Whale. While that element gives the film a tinge of reminiscent nostalgia even as the conflicts at hand wage mental and emotional distraught in all directions, the knowing overtone that being fucked up is pretty much the norm also gives the film the freedom to suggest a wholly realistic opportunity for something better to come out of the present chaos. “Joint custody blows” becomes the unofficial motto for offspring Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Cline) when their parents Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) separate in 1986 after eighteen years of marriage and almost half a decade of hidden turmoil. Walt and Frank (“chicken” and “pickle,” respectively) take allegiances with their father and mother (also respectively), and both the natural destruction of the family unit as well as overtones of selfishness and greed on their parents’ parts take their tolls on the impressionable youth. The titular metaphor stands in both for the aggressive negotiations often seen in a family as well as a reflection of the uneasy sexual maturation of both the pubescent Frank (who exhibits common Freudian obsessions) and the older Walt (whose navigations in the world of dating are not unlike that of a mine field). When Walt claims Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” as his own work in a school talent show, the fact that his disguised cry for help goes almost completely unheard makes his struggles even more poignant. The Squid and the Whale features perhaps the best ensemble cast of any film from 2005, the standout here being Jeff Daniels in a career-high, incredibly nuanced performance that brings great humanity to a largely unpleasant persona. The largely handheld camerawork compliments the natural aesthetic, aiding the film to capture reality rather than simulate it in this reflective and provoking slice of often tarnished but absolutely real life, a reminder that both trials and pain can be as beautiful an experience as any other.

Howl's Moving Castle (2005)

Unlike the mythological Princess Mononoke or the fantastic childhood nostalgia of Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle is a Miyazaki film that seems content to meander from one location and idea to the next with less in the way of tangible coherence than deeply satisfying emotional curiosity. This fact might limit it from reaching the same pinnacles as those two previous films, but for all its losses, the film gains a sense of visual wonder almost completely freed from the strains of a narrative-driven film. In a way, the titular vehicle, a massive plethora of rooms, stacks and chunks that lumbers from place to place on spindly legs (all the while swelling and bending in manners that seem wonderfully contradictory to the laws of physics), is representative of the entire film. Much of it may lack in explanation or logic, but the presence of it all it is a wonder to behold.

Howl is but one of many wizards and witches in this fantastical land, one whom is known through rumors for his ruthless behavior toward beautiful woman, but in fact shows suave kindness to the young Sophie in a chance encounter. Later, after Sophie unknowingly offends the evil Witch of the Waste and is promptly transformed into a ninety-year-old woman (the curse works double fold in that she is unable to talk to anyone about it), she seeks out Howl and takes on the job of his cleaning lady, hoping to eventually be cured of her condition. Howl’s reckless use of his magical powers is reaching new levels of potential danger to himself and others, all at the same time the countryside is at war (the ambiguity and implied corruption of which suggests a passive commentary on world politics), a mess which Sophie and her newfound company quickly find themselves in the midst of.

Miyazaki’s knack for offbeat supporting characters is as evident here as ever: a silent, always helpful scarecrow (dubbed ‘turnip head’ for obvious reasons), a fire demon named Calcifer, forced by Howl through a spell to power the castle, and the usual motley of contrasting human characters make up the diverse cast. Even when the story seems about to burst at the seams, the depth and nuance of the characters keeps the proceedings both relevant and affecting, as the various visual motifs, character relations and metaphysical implications are often hazy and seemingly inconsistent, even to the most seasoned Miyazaki fans. In the English-dubbed version, Billy Crystal is a constant hoot as Calcifer, although the voice actors in the original version (unseen by me) are said to be more in character. The visuals, however, an economic combination of traditional hand-drawn cell animation with computer-generated scenery, are the most aesthetically satisfying element of the film one way or another; the soulless CG spectacles from DreamWorks and Disney can’t even begin to hold a candle.

12 Angry Men (1957)

A young Spanish boy, raised in the slums, stands on trial for the murder of his father. Twelve white jurors march off to decide his fate, most of them convinced of his guilt purely on the basis of his appearance and background before facts have a chance to even enter the equation. These opening scenes of 12 Angry Men, first written in 1954 and filmed here in 1957, are exceedingly telling about the racial and economic divides in America even with fifty years of hindsight. While the film most prominently prescribes to the importance of upholding one’s democratic responsibilities as well as one’s obligation to their fellow man, the racial divides that separate the haves from the have nots is another roadblock that has refused to go away, and thus remains a hot topic suggested here. An average 90’s remake of the film hardly had to change a thing to bring the material up to the times, suggesting that as long as democracy exists and we human participants are flawed in nature, 12 Angry Men and the issues it raises will be timeless in nature.

Taking place almost entirely within the jury room, 12 Angry Man watches as eleven jurors first convinced of the suspect’s guilt are slowly won over to the side of reasonable doubt by the one man sympathetic enough to at least look over the details of the case before sending a man off to die. The twelve men (referred to by their juror number rather than name, as goes the democratic process) exist less as individual characters than as semi-exaggerated caricatures that siphon variously opposing, often clashing viewpoints. For as nicely packaged as 12 Angry Men often is, it makes no self-saluting greater aspirations (I’m talking to you, Crash), which gives the material the much-desired breathing room it needs to reach full potency. As the most ardent believers of the suspect’s guilt refuse to be worn away by the evidence mounting up in favor of his innocence, one might sense that they exist largely as straw men for the film’s levelheaded bleeding heart to tear down. That would be the case were such stubbornness and bigotry not present in the real world, and if 12 Angry Men’s jury room acts as an unstated microcosm of the real world (or at least American society), then it’s allegorical implications hit all the right notes, even if they may be somewhat oversimplified in the long run.

I seriously doubt that the triumph of truth-seeking over reckless abuse of democratic power portrayed here is what generally unfolds in the real world; for as much as 12 Angry Men reflects the many divides of society, it also exists as an idealistic vision of what democracy should be. As a political lesson, it earns the right to borderline on preachy, but as a drama, the film arguably works even better. Employing tighter framing compositions and lower-level angles as the film progresses, the sense of tension and heightened tempers in the small room escalates to near unbearable levels, punctuated by newfound inconsistencies in the testimonials as well as revelations that cast known details of the case in a new lighting. Such images as eleven of the jurors standing opposite the irrationally enraged juror number three (Lee J. Cobb) evoke a wonderful sense of humanities’ potential for good, political context notwithstanding. But as a work that reflects on the common regard for one’s fellow man as expressed through the Constitutional right to a fair trial, it is also a pertinent and demonstrative film. In other words, somebody put 12 Angry Men on George W. Bush’s Netflix queue.

The King of Kings (1927)

Even seen theatrically and accompanied by a live organ performance (as I was priveledged to do so during a restoration run), Cecil B. DeMille's silent would-be epic The King of Kings is a tedious, strictly standard affair, revealing itself as a precursor to Mel Gibson's Christian propaganda piece The Passion of the Christ, albeit without the gore or bloodshed. Originally released as an opener to new theater houses, the film exists primarily to enlighten audiences as to the divine nature of the Christian messiah. In actually showing his godly capabilities as well as why he bore such a threat to the Roman leaders of the day, King of Kings outdoes The Passion in terms of actually providing some meaning for the ultimate crucifixion. But while this work is far from a snuff film, it's sampling of stock character conflicts and overt self-importance renders it little more than a dead-in-the-water melodrama from the days of past.

The first glimpse of Christ (H.B. Warner) is presented via the restored sight of a blind child, positing the audience as both the healed and enlightened. DeMille's overly literally imagery finds little restraint here, both in the grand, elaborate sets and costumes as well as the camera tricks showcasing events of religious and supernatural grandeur. With a bit of narrative liberty taken from the gospel sources, the film's Jesus extricates Mary Magdalene's sins from her soul one by one in a scene completely unaware of its outright silliness. Likewise, the climactic end to the crucifixion sees fire and brimstone rain down upon the unbelievers in an earthquake-like disaster in perhaps the only scene that registers to some tangible effect, even if it feels completely removed from the rest of the film. Ultimately, the exaggerated chaos of it all suggests that those still unconvinced as to whether or not the path of Jesus is the right one have another thing coming, and had better reconsider their status.

Holy its source materials may be in some circles, The King of Kings finds no such divinity in its uninspired biblical retellings, where the good and evil in its characters are worn prominently on their sleeves. Jesus' wise and perfect portrayal is suiting, but from his first glimpse on screen there's never any doubt as to the role Judas (Joseph Schildkraut) will play, rendering his ultimate betrayal completely meaningless. With such reliance on such thinly developed protagonist-antagonist antics, the film never reaches the sense of greater importance it pronounces so boldly. When Christ ascends to heaven three days after his death, the effect is not one of great meaning or accomplishment, but redundancy. Using title cards lifted from scripture, the film is a preachy affair from the very outset, its greater intentions suffocated by it's unwillingness to let the audience appreciate the finer qualities of its message without them being overblown in presentation. Sermons rarely make good films, and this one is no different.