Starring Sean Bean. Rated PG
It’s tempting to call The Young Messiah a Sunday school movie of sorts.
The film—which takes place when Jesus is seven years old and returning to Palestine with his family—is based on Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, one of two Jesus-centred novels that Anne Rice wrote during the decade or so in which she self-identified as a practising Catholic. The film’s director, Cyrus Nowrasteh (The Stoning of Soraya M.), also talked openly about becoming a baptized Christian while the film was still in development.
But The Young Messiah would have difficulty getting into some church basements, thanks to its reliance on apocryphal legends. It is also more violent than its family-friendly title might suggest: a woman kills a rapist in self-defence, while a somewhat contrived subplot follows a Roman centurion (Sean Bean) who is haunted by his role in the biblical slaughter at Bethlehem, and is ordered by Herod to track Jesus down and finish the job.
As in The Passion of the Christ, with which this film shares some personnel, Jesus is taunted regularly by a demonic figure (Rory Keenan) that no one else can see. Lars von Trier fans may get a kick out of the way that this character yells “Chaos rules, and I am its prince!”
As Joseph and Mary, Vincent Walsh and Sara Lazzaro spend most of their time expressing various degrees of concern. Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles), on the other hand, has some fun as Jesus’s outspoken, opinionated uncle Cleopas.
But the film’s biggest strength is young Adam Greaves-Neal, who, as the prepubescent Christ, pulls off the tricky balancing act of playing a believable kid who also has a destiny that is mysterious even to him. Every child has questions that parents are reluctant to answer, and one of the better things about The Young Messiah is how it manages to suggest that Jesus was just like the rest of us in that regard, only more so.