Luke, the Greek physician of Biblical fame, arrives covertly in Rome. He is there to visit the apostle Paul in prison. Upon his arrival, he takes refuge with the Christian community in Rome, who are led by Priscilla and Aquila. Extreme measures are necessary to guard the community’s safety and location, thanks to prior events. The emperor Nero, has been persecuting Christians ever since accusing them of a fire which devastated Rome. Priscilla and Aquila are contemplating whether they should remain in the city or flee for their lives and ask Luke to inquire of Paul for wisdom.
Thanks to some influential friends, Luke is able to regularly visit Paul although Mauritius, the Roman director of the prison keeps a close watch on these visits. As the local Christians ponder their future in Rome, and Luke confides in Paul his own anger and doubts, the two men agree that Luke will record Paul’s own journey of faith. As Paul’s life and those of the Roman Christians hang in the balance, they hope that Paul’s story will serve as an encouragement and reminder of the work of Jesus which will outlast their own lives.
As a believer, I try to support films with faith messages as much as possible. However, some are better than others, in terms of production and story quality. Paul, the Apostle of Christ not only ranks up there as one of the best Christian films I’ve seen, but also as one of the better films period. Though, it is a slower moving film, one with a little action and a lot of dialogue, it is compelling, challenging and yes, inspiring.
Essentially, the film tells three separate yet interwoven stories; that of the Christian community in Rome, the early days of Paul which are shown in Paul’s flashback memories and dreams, as well as the latter days of his life which are spent in prison. Luke does receive a large percentage of the screen time, but this is because he acts as a bridge between the two stories.
I loved how this film humanized the heroes which I’ve read about in the Bible. It’s easy to become familiar with their names and stories and to take the portions of their lives in Scripture out of context. It’s too easy to glorify their faith and forget the historical background they existed in. Paul, Luke, Priscilla and Aquila all wrestle with doubts, shame, guilt, anger, fear, indecision and God’s seeming silence in the face of extreme evil. That is one of the things which makes this movie so powerful. The realization that the words they spoke/wrote were in the face of very trials and challenges we all face left a huge impact on me.
I also appreciate the way Paul, Apostle of Christ, wove words of Scripture directly into the script as if they were revelations the characters received instead of some fancy sermon that they preached. One scene which hit me particularly hard, was when Paul awakens from a nightmare. But that nightmare is actual memories of his life before Christ, one which left him with blood on his hands. He awakens tortured, but whispers in faith, “your grace is sufficient, your grace is sufficient.” There are many stunning scenes like this.
There is a small side story about Mauritius, whose daughter is dying and marriage is crumbling. He is a Roman whose own faith is very different from the Christians. Yet as he comes to know Luke and Paul, he learns to respect them. Their scenes together are important in showing how the Christians’ lifestyle appears to others and also how their commitment to love in the face of persecution is vital to their mission. I like though, how they are not focused on converting, but on living by example. At one point, after a conversation with Mauritius, Paul even admits he is not trying to convince Mauritius of the truth of Christ.
Paul, Apostle of Christ is a well-shot, well-edited film in my opinion. There are some very interesting camera choices, which I found very visually pleasing. And with names such as Jim Caviezel, James Faulkner, Olivier Martinez and Joanne Whalley playing the important roles, it gives the characters depth and gravity. Fans with a sharp eye may even recognize a familiar face from the BBC series The Durrells of Corfu, playing Paul as a younger man.
With its’ historical setting and subject matter, Paul, Apostle of Christ can be hard to watch. There are scenes and discussions of extreme violence and evil, but they are done without becoming too graphic. But in spite of some of the deep and difficult subject matter, it is not without humor and lighter moments. The rapport and friendship between Paul and Luke is wonderful and especially fun when they tease each other.
I can’t praise this movie enough. If you are looking for a quality story, then look no further. If you like historical films which take you to ancient places so that you can almost breathe in the dust and touch the stones of a centuries old city, then this film will transport you. If you appreciate films which explore beneath the surface of the human soul, challenge you to think outside the box and leave you pondering the meaning of life, than I recommend Paul, Apostle of Christ, regardless of your own personal beliefs.