By: Steve Pulaski
Paul, Apostle of Christ follows the title character, played by James Faulkner, during his time spent in a Mamertine Prison in Rome due to his efforts to convert people to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Just as Nero has sentenced the saint to die in A.D. 67, the mild-mannered Luke (The Passion of the Christ's Jim Caviezel) has paid him a visit in prison with intent to transcribe his story into a Gospel, which would later be known as "Acts of the Apostles." While Luke attempts to dictate and publish a vivid account of Paul's personal conversion, from a petty heathen known as Saul (played by Yorgos Karamihos) to the very antithesis of what he was, Christians are heatedly discussing their plan of action as Nero's vicious persecution continues. They contemplate whether or not to retaliate in the face of executions and intense marginalization, the likes of which might cause them to do things directly opposed to the teachings of their lord and savior.
There's also Mauritius (Olivier Martinez), the prison prefect, who evokes a bit of sympathy onto Paul and his story, but clings true to his own principles by refusing to allow a Christian doctor to treat his ailing daughter. In the meantime, a bald Paul with a shaggy white beard sits in prison, largely lonesome without the companionship of Luke, worrying whether or not God will forgive him for his past life.
Last month, Pure Flix Entertainment released Samson, a critically maligned biopic that told the story of God's strongman Samson, an initially reluctant soul of moral conviction who met his downfall after falling prey to Prince Rallah's Philistine mole, Delilah. The film took the comprehensive route of detailing the life of its titular character yet effectively illustrated his motivations, pitfalls, and the agony of trying to play a variety of roles for various people. Samsonmight not have been gorgeously choreographed or even as well-filmed as Paul, but it nonetheless felt like it gave us a complete story.
Andrew Hyatt's film, on the other hand — another product of Affirm Films, Sony's branch of films aimed at an evangelical audience — looks at a snapshot of Paul's life that seems rather insignificant when compared to what the director's screenplay constantly references. Looking at a small, centralized sliver of such a large and essential character to the foundation of the Christian faith is a wise move, but to focus on Paul's imprisonment and the uncertainty amongst commoners on how to grapple with Nero's iron-fist forces is a little silly. It's clear that Hyatt was looking to make a film more minimalist in scope with the idea of legacy firmly present. That seems fine, until it's readily apparent that the end-product lacks cohesion in its narrative and broader themes because the script itself isn't sure what story it's telling.
Watching the low-energy conversations between Paul and Luke, conducted in whisper-dialog presumably to make up for the dramatically inert aura this film erects, failed to inspire intrigue in myself as much as tedium for the 108-minute film. Juxtaposing moments of unrest in neighboring Roman communities with Mauritius's well-intentioned but utterly uncontextualized story also perplexed me in trying to discern the ultimate message to be unearthed in Paul, Apostle of Christ. The Saint's story is arguably the most well-known in the Bible, and the wealth of information on the character that's readily accessible means there's almost no excuse as to why a competent, well-researched film couldn't be made. Instead, the detail-oriented performances of Faulkner and Caviezel find themselves airy and lost at sea in a film with no idea how to properly utilize the immensely talented performers.
Leave it to a Christian biopic I indirectly asked for in my review of the aforementioned Samson to be the film to make me feel like Amanda from the recently released film Thoroughbreds in the regard that Paul, Apostle of Christ left me unfazed and emotionally hollow. In his uncertainty on whether or not to explore Paul's actions or his legacy, Andrew Hyatt has crafted an unsatisfying hybrid that restricts audiences from getting on the film's wavelength. Take note, for this is the first time I'd advise you to choose an emotionally obvious yet well-made Christian drama currently playing at your local multiplexes (I Can Only Imagine) over a film of the same genre focusing on a character true to the respective theology.