Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Killing Jesus' Portrays Jesus as 'Messiah Next Door'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Killing Jesus' Portrays Jesus as 'Messiah Next Door'

Article excerpt

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.

Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Dugard have a successful cottage industry going with their "Killing" series, which includes "Killing Kennedy" and "Killing Lincoln," both of which have also made the leap to television.

One moderately intriguing aspect of the NatGeo adaptation of the latest book is that it portrays Jesus as a regular guy. No miracles per se, 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." Jesus could be ordering a pizza when he almost off-handedly admonishes the crowd to cast the first stone at an unfaithful woman only if they themselves are without sin.

Another thing the film does right is to remind us that Jesus was not the handsome blond guy in the Warren Sallman painting, nor the blue-eyed "King of Kings" played by Hollywood heartthrob Jeffrey Hunter in that 1961 film. 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 on a Hollywood back lot.

Kelsey Grammer gets special billing in the cast, but as Herod the Great, he beats a hasty but hammy retreat in the film's opening segment - emoting all the way to the bank, no doubt. Sit back and prepare for your head to spin in the next few minutes as we zip through Jesus' birth and adolescence, the death of Joseph, and the beginning of his career as the Son of God. …

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