Out this week is Mary Magdalene the story of the woman who would become one of Jesus Christs most loyal followers starring Rooney Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Joaquin Phoenix.
Following Mary from her life in Magdala to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ director Garth Davis wants to show a side to the story that many people have probably never thought of, what about the women behind Jesus? Especially someone as prevalent as Mary Magdalene. It’s a fascinating premise but how does it all come together in this two-hour film?
Mary Magdalene is a technically breathtaking film. Composers Hildur Guðnadóttir and Jóhann Jóhannsson and cinematographer Greig Fraser have crafted an astounding world that has a serene grandeur to it. From the first shot of the film I was hooked and when you combine this with the soothing score you are enveloped by it and it’s a profound feeling and is a particular highlight of Mary Magdalene. The characters in Mary Magdalene headlined by Rooney Mara are an intimate but impactful cast. Mara plays a woman who was ahead of her time, she didn’t want to be just another wife she wanted to be something more she wants a more purposeful identity.
This sounds somewhat trite and clichéd but the script elevates what her character goes through in the first act of the film. She also has several scenes in the film where she commands the screen with her presence alone, with a simple look she says so much. There is a particular moment between herself and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Peter that brought me to tears through her sheer force of will. It’s a true testament to her skill as an actor and she is one of the best elements of the film. One of the other parts of Mary Magdalene that must be discussed is Jesus Christ played by Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix gives an understated performance as the travelling Rabbi who has been prophecised as the son of God. His presence in the film his potent but does not overshadow Mara’s which to me was key to make sure that this film worked as the title wanted it to because this film is about Mary Magdalene, not Jesus Christ.
This does bring me to some of my issues with the film, even though Mary is clearly the lead protagonist, towards the third act of the film Jesus becomes the focal point and Mary is lost in the overcrowding of scenes. The screenplay also loses steam in the third act as you begin to recognise many of the main staples of the story of Jesus Christ. There is also the issue I felt that director Davis didn’t know where to end her story because in my opinion this story could have been trimmed down to have a much tighter and effective film.
Overall Mary Magdalene is a refreshing perspective on a story that is quite effective. It is filled with beautiful imagery, powerful performances but they are sadly let down by a story that loses its focus in its third act.