The draw for me was that all the dialog was in Aramaic, the language of first century Palestine and what Jesus was believed to have spoken. As Aramaic is a dead language, there are no more native speakers and insisting that it all be done in that language is a huge undertaking.
That being said, the actors speaking the language seemed quite rough and not polished at all, especially James Caviezel as Jesus. This isn't that big a surprise, since it's a dead language that few can speak, but if you're going to do it, you might as well do it right.
I found Monica Bellucci as Magdalen completely off putting, since in a world of ugliness, you have this hot babe hanging around. Strangely enough, Gibson decides to make Magdalen the "woman taken in adultery" as well, which I don't understand at all.
In the end, it's Mel Gibson's imagination going wild on all the many, many possible ways that a man can suffer while be prosecuted by the Romans in the first century.
A few criticisms:
- there is NO way that any human could take that beating (being flayed for five or ten minutes straight, being beaten several times, kicked, punched, caned, crown of thorns etc.. etc...) AND still carry the cross or even stand.
- once you are unwilling to believe that it's even possible (very early in), all that is left is Gibson's sadism, and that's not enough to sustain the movie.
- it becomes all about how many ways you can show blood spurting, covering surfaces, dripping, oozing, flowing and anything else that blood can do, and nothing about the message of Christ himself or even the meaning of his suffering.
- all of Christ's quotes in the movie seem completely senseless and out of context, since you can't put everything in, they are isolated bits of "wisdom" that everyone nods at as if it is something meaningful, but you are left scratching your head wondering what the hell he even said and what he meant.
- There isn't really one, cohesive narrative, and pieces of various gospels are taken with no real preference for one over another. The entire movie only makes sense because most of the watchers have a general idea what the story of Jesus is in the first place. Pontius Pilot's innocence and unwillingness to cooperate is really played up and the desire to have Jesus crucified is really strong in the Jewish population. In that way, it becomes far more antisemitic than say the earliest gospel, Mark (chronologically speaking) and more like the last Gospel, John. The later gospels are far more antisemitic as Christianity stopped being exclusively Jewish and started including members of the pagan population.
There are a few token scenes where some Jewish guy feels bad for Jesus and walks out saying it's out of control, or asking a Roman soldier to leave the man alone.
All and all a thoroughly unpleasant movie to sit through. I just kept wanting it to end.
My stars are all for the setting, language, look and feel and not for the main point.