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Review: ‘Paul, Apostle of Christ’ takes a compelling Biblical character and delivers a ponderous drama

(L-R) - (James Faulkner) reminds Luke (Jim Caviezel) that love is the only way in “PAUL, APOSTLE OF
James Faulkner, left, and Jim Caviezel in the movie “Paul, Apostle of Christ.”
(Mark Cassar / CTMG / Affirm Films / Sony Pictures Releasing)

As the key man on the ground for Jesus in the early days of Christianity, yet one who had vigorously persecuted Christians preconversion, Paul would be tempting material for any faith-based filmmaker. Too bad writer-director Andrew Hyatt’s “Paul, Apostle of Christ” — with “Game of Thrones” actor James Faulkner as the bald, bearded evangelizer extraordinaire — is so ponderous a dramatization of his story, despite an appealing outer shell of ancient period flavor and a few decent performances.

Focused on his later years as a scarred, reflective Roman prisoner after the city’s legendary fires gave Nero an excuse to scapegoat Christians, the movie is built around cell visits by one-time cohort Luke (suitably serious, Bible-flick-ready actor Jim Caviezel) that produced some of the New Testament’s key writings.

There are subplots about whether Rome’s hiding Christians should openly, violently revolt, and the internal struggle of the prison’s prefect (French actor Olivier Martinez, alone weez eez awk-sent) who hates his gig and has a dying child. But a few minutes of thriller-like tension early on gives way to a lot of tediously scripted scenes of whisper-acting that rarely breathe life and humanity into what should be a potent turning point story in a religion’s history.

Also, dark times don’t have to mean hopelessly unlit times — so much of “Paul” shrouds its actors in feature-deficient silhouette that it leaves its themes of grace, love and mercy discussed but regrettably under-shown.

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‘Paul, Apostle of Christ’

Rating: PG-13, for some violent content and disturbing images

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

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Playing: In general release

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