He is for all mankind. God made into flesh.
The Nativity Story is the most prominent film about Jesus’ birth since the Disney animated film Small One, one of my childhood favorites. Filmmakers build the blessed events well including atrocities that soldiers carry out “for the continued good of the evil King Herod’s kingdom.”
The film, written by Mike Rich (The Rookie), starts one year earlier, explaining Herod’s tyrannical rule of and his fear of losing power to this Messiah. Herod, well played by Ciaran Hinds (Sum of All Fears, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life), wildly tries to track and eliminate this Messiah, eventually leading to a horrific plan quickly summarized in the beginning scenes.
The daily life (gathering food, building shelters, etc.) is captured well as the people long for the promised Messiah as told in the “Words of the ancients” like Jeremiah 23:5-6.
“There is always hope even in Nazareth,” says Mary’s mother.
Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) plays the young Mary with quiet dignity. Oscar Isaac plays Joseph, an honorable man “who will give of himself before anyone else.” Together they find strength to do God’s will after the Angel Gabriel, played by Alexander Siddiq (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine television series) appears to them with the amazing news.
Castle-Hughes and Isaac portray simple, admirable human qualities as Mary and Joseph, which makes the impending events (i.e. the three wise men’s journey from Persia, encounters with shepherds) surrounding Jesus’ birth more special.
“Why me? I am nothing,” says Mary, while Joseph says, “I wonder if I will be able to teach Him [Jesus] anything.” They both have their doubts.
Most memorable scenes in the first half of the film involve Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth, well played by Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog, Lake House). Elizabeth’s unlikely and important birth surprises many people, especially her husband Zechariah, played by Stanley Townsend (In the Name of the Father).
People throw much worse accusations towards Mary’s pregnancy as she and Joseph withstand wide-ranging danger. “The will for this child is greater than my fear of what they might do,” says Mary. The newly married couple gets a nice respite from accusing eyes when a census order takes them to Bethlehem. The second half of the film contains several iconic elements like Mary’s familiar blue clothes (a gift from Elizabeth), the familiar travels and, of course, the nativity scene itself.
Director/co-producer Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown) creates some great, authentic visuals with her cinematographer Elliot Davis in filming locations such as Italy and Morocco. Weaknesses include a quick succession of oddly edited scenes (Joseph searched by Roman soldiers, Herod sacrificing an animal) interrupting the quiet flow of the plot.
Hardwicke also uses a low budget tactic where Herod directs some special construction, but the audience never sees it. The sets are impressive enough, so it hurts the film’s credibility when these unseen visuals are just mentioned for no apparent reason.
Canadian born Mychael Danna creates a great musical score complete with familiar classics like “O Come O Come Emmanuelle” and “Silent Night.”
Recommended and rated PG for violent content. A nice family movie with nothing too intense (though there are a few quick shots of crucifixions and a horrible beginning order from Herod). Nativity Story was the first feature film ever to premiere at the Vatican.