Friday April 20, 2001
To watch "The Body" is to be reminded of how many lousy movies have been made in Jerusalem, usually formulaic thrillers featuring international casts. Despite a premise that's provocative, to say the least, this one's a dud too.
Adapted by first-time director Jonas McCord from Richard Ben Sapir's novel, "The Body" has a hapless Arab hardware merchant (Makhram J. Khoury) carving out a basement beneath his overcrowded small shop, only to uncover an ancient tile floor. Israeli archeologist Sharon Golban (Olivia Williams) is dutifully called in and soon uncovers a rich man's tomb.
The human remains, buried with some coins bearing the likeness of Pontius Pilate, indicate death was caused by crucifixion at a period when that form of execution was strictly reserved for the lower classes. The only known instance of a crucified poor man buried in a rich man's tomb is Jesus Christ. What if further research indicates that the remains really are those of Jesus, who then cannot be said to have risen from the grave after all? The religious and political implications could be cataclysmic.
Oddly, the gravity of such a discovery doesn't register with the shrill, eager-to-publish Golban until she's confronted by Father Matt Gutierrez (Antonio Banderas), an earnest emissary dispatched from the Vatican by the pragmatic Cardinal Pesci (John Wood), who flatly declares that the remains are not those of Christ.
When Father Gutierrez says he sees his mission as protecting the faith, the cardinal tells him no, that he is to protect the church, which will take care of protecting the faith. Alas, the devout but open-minded good father really does believe that the truth shall set you free.
It would take genius and daring to pull off a film worthy of such a premise. That McCord is as pedestrian an adapter as he is a director further trivializes the film, which proceeds murkily and with precious little credibility. It also makes an array of Catholics, Jews and Arabs look bad before it reaches a predictably contrived ending.
"The Body" would seem to have been a sincere attempt at a change of pace by Banderas, who certainly gives the role his all. Williams is a colorless heroine, especially opposite Banderas, but the film is a nice payday for British stalwarts such as John Shrapnel, Derek Jacobi, Jason Flemyng, Vernon Dobtcheff and Ian McNeice, as well as Wood. (The British are also not shy about performing floridly, indeed hammily, in the face of dull or foolish material.)
Both Khoury and Muhamed Bakri, the latter cast as a Palestinian freedom fighter, are solid presences in this film, as they are in Israeli movies. It's sad to say, but that Jerusalem has been photographed by a master, Vilmos Zsigmond, doesn't much matter.
The Body, 2001. PG-13, for some violent sequences and brief language. TriStar Pictures with MDP Worldwide, Avalanche Films and Helkon Media in association with Green Moon Productions present a Diamant/Cohen production. Writer-director Jonas McCord. Based on the novel by Richard Ben Sapir. Producer Rudy Cohen. Executive producers Mark Damon, Moshe Diamant, Dian Sillan Isaacs, Werner Koenig. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. Editor Alain Jakubowicz. Music Serge Colbert. Costumes Caroline Harris. Production designer All Starski. Art directors Nenad Pecur, Gloria Porter. Set decorators William A. Cimino, Miguel Merkin. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Antonio Banderas as Father Matt Gutierrez. Olivia Williams as Dr. Sharon Golban. John Shrapnel as Moshe Cohen. Derek Jacobi as Father Lavelle.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times