Faithful ‘John’ lacks emotion, quality acting

The execution of a highly visible leader after numerous assassination attempts. A tense trial with a controversial ruling. Numerous unexplainable acts performed in front of large crowds.

A film with all of these things (and based on a best-selling book no less) should lead to compelling drama and elicit emotions from people watching the movie, but the makers of "The Gospel of John" have managed to eliminate any kind of sting or impact with their visual version of the fourth book of the New Testament, thanks to some truly odd presentation choices.

The movie begins with the claim that "this is a faithful retelling" of the book of John (using the Good News version of the Bible) — and there is no doubt of that. The movie does literally follow the book word-for-word as every word used in the book is uttered in the movie.

In that vein the movie starts with John the Baptist preaching in the desert and the baptism and emergence of Jesus (Henry Ian Cusick) from the early chapters. It then follows Jesus' life from the miracle of turning water into wine all the way until the post-resurrection appearances to disciples.

And while the story follows John's book to the letter, that's the only Gospel it follows, leaving the movie's story a little incomplete. Classic Biblical villain Herod is nowhere to be seen, John the Baptist just kind of goes away without explanation, and the movie ends where the book does — minus Jesus' transfiguration scene.

It's impossible to fault writer John Goldsmith for adding anything to the words of the Bible, but this also causes a lot of problems in presenting a film.

The major problem with this retelling is that the narration (done by Christopher Plummer) is constant. It's understandable for director Philip Savine to have narration for things that happen off-screen or to relate historical contexts, but adding in "Jesus said" after Jesus talks is wholly unnecessary on film and saps its energy over three hours.

Lack of energy is a problem compounded by the fact that there is no single memorable — or even engaging — performance from the entire cast.

The featured players all give performances that feel more like a first rehearsal for a dramatic reading of the material than the final product. And the brunt of the problems lies on Cusick. While he looks the Jesus part, Cusick also has a varying and undefined accent, a monotone delivery on most of his speeches and way too many wide-eyed gazes throughout the movie.

The only part of the movie that captures any emotion is the fairly graphic crucifixion scene, which is quite wince-inducing. But these scenes feel incomplete as well, with a drawn-out trial, a rushed crucifixion and without the curtain-ripping and earthquakes of the other Gospel accounts.

"The Gospel of John" fails to justify putting the book's words on the screen. While it may serve as a visual realization of a story many people have only read, it loses the beautiful poetry and writing style that comes with John.

And all of its little production problems are likely to be avoided by Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" next month. So unless you refuse to see a movie in Aramaic, wait until then for Jesus on film.,”Matthew T. Olson”