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Zeal of approval

'Passion' not worth all the controversy

By Nick Nunziata
CNN Headline News

Maia Morgenstern as Mary and James Caviezel as Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ."

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Mel Gibson
Box Office

(CNN) -- So much has been said about Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" that it seems a waste of text to further the discussion. It seems that the film is but an afterthought to the hype and implied controversy.

You can't turn on a television, open a newspaper or search the woods for Sasquatch without hearing some mention of the recently released religious blockbuster. Since I'm a glutton, I'll add my two cents to the already overflowing piggy bank of opinions on the subject and hope you'll still respect me in the morning. Oh, and disregard the Sasquatch comment. We all know he lives in suburban Minneapolis.

Has there ever been a more ornate, delicately orchestrated powder keg in the history of film than "The Passion"? From concept to unknown quantity to finished product, this movie has done everything right when it comes down to that bottom line: The box office.

That's not to imply that this already monumental money drift is some Machiavellian sleight of hand by Gibson -- it isn't. It's as much a testimony to the director's passion as anything else and certainly deserves the "labor of love" moniker. It just also happens to be a perfect example of how controversy can be milked into tidy profits for all involved parties. But, if you peel back the layers, is the film worth all this controversy?

As a film guy, I'd say no.

Gibson's film is gorgeously shot, impeccably lit, and given every flourish an artisan's muse can provide. It features performances lacking self-awareness and certainly achieves realism in its numerous moments of violence. It is a resounding success on nearly every technical level. With all of that in mind, it just seems like a fragment of a film, the last act of a three-act masterpiece.

I understand that it was never Gibson's intention to re-create the birth, life, death and rebirth of Jesus Christ. I just feel that from a film perspective you have to provide a beginning, middle and end that conveys some sort of an arc -- something richer. You cannot assume that everyone's going to arrive at the theater with plans to fill in the blanks on their own. This isn't a documentary or a biography. It's an art film. A statement.

If released in 60 theaters across the country with little fanfare, it just might work. As a magnet for heated debate, it falls way short of the mark. It's a small film burdened with titanic expectations. Its supporters look to it as a revelation, aid in spreading the gospel. Its detractors see a target of opportunity.

I see a film that would have been a wonderful tone poem for those with faith and an eye-opening experience for those without, provided they don't fall prey to the hype. This is not a big film, rather a small one with big awareness.

You will get from "The Passion" exactly what you bring in the door with you. Don't expect much more than that and you'll do just fine.

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