National Geographic Channel’s “Killing Jesus,” airing Sunday and based on the book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, is full of agony but comes up really short in the ecstasy department.
One moderately intriguing aspect of the NatGeo adaptation is it portrays Jesus as a regular guy. No miracles, other than a few happenings that could be either miraculous or coincidental. Here, JC is just a good ol’ Nazarene who enjoys a joke here and there as well as hanging with his 12 homies. With the title role played by Haaz Sleiman, with a script by Walon Green and direction by Chris Menaul, “Killing Jesus” offers its title character as the Messiah next door.
The common-man interpretation is enhanced by the script’s adaptation of biblical text in everyday language – no “ye’s,” “thines” or “goests.”
Another thing the film does right is to remind us that Jesus, the Disciples and most of the residents of Jerusalem and Nazareth are Semites. They look as if they belong in the Eastern Mediterranean, not in Hollywood.
The story chugs along at an almost comically efficient pace, with the highlights of Jesus’ life treated like a clip reel of the New Testament. There are exceptions, such as the Sermon on the Mount, a stem-winder of dramatic oration and quite moving, but they are few.
As ham-fisted as the filmmaking is, the finale is convincing and moving. We feel the wrenching pain Jesus experiences on the cross. His final words are spoken like a man about to die after hours of agony, with resolution and perhaps a bit of relief.
“Killing Jesus” is, for the most part, a missed opportunity, and despite its few good points, you’re likely to conclude that, once again, the book was better.