The Body

on April 20, 2001 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
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   In modern-day Jerusalem, the ancient remains of a body is accidentally discovered beneath a Palestinian shop. When the examining archaeologist reveals that the bones are of a man killed by crucifixion over 2000 years earlier and suggests that they may the remnants of Jesus of Nazareth, the Vatican hastily sends a young priest to determine the bones' authenticity. Such is the intriguing plot of "The Body," which, by adding the complexities of modern-day political tensions between Israel and Palestine, fairly bursts with thrilling and provocative potential. Unfortunately, writer-director Jonas McCord, in his feature film directing debut, realizes none of it. A weak script, stilted performances and lackluster direction sap "The Body" of all its inherent kinetic promise, leaving a tale dry as dust.

   Mysteriously, Israeli archaeologist Sharon Golban (Olivia Williams, in the film's only solid performance) is the only professional summoned (by whom, its never made clear) to examine the skeleton within an ancient tomb discovered during a hardware store owner's expansion. Her conclusion that the bones may be the remains of Christ somehow finds its way to the Vatican, which dispatches earnest, devout Father Matt Gutierrez (Antonio Banderas in an awkward, one-note performance) to investigate. In addition to dealing with the independent and belligerent archaeologist, Father Matt must contend with the eccentric young Father Winstead (Jason Flemyng) and the revered Father Lavelle (Derek Jacobi, outrageously hammy), who proclaims an intellectual and spiritual appreciation of science that can only bolster the veracity of Christ's existence. In the midst of these tensions, the surrounding political battle between the Palestinians and Israelis for the heart of Jerusalem plays itself out.

   Based upon the novel by Richard Ben Sapiro, this adaptation by McCord (whose previous work is predominantly in television, in addition to scripting "Malice" and "Metro") is unable to meld the various complicated themes of religious and political intrigue into a solid dynamic. Instead, his story strands seem to be strangely independent of one another. The attempt by both the Israelis and the Palestinians to use the skeleton's discovery for political ends seems wholly apart from Matt and Sharon's tentative inquiry, and their eventual inclusion in a terrorist scenario feels forced rather than inevitable. Likewise, the compelling struggle by Father Lavelle in confronting the potential repudiation of a lifelong faith is given an oddly theatrical tone that undercuts its gravity. Although the location shooting (dozens of panning shots of a golden-hazed Jerusalem serve as transition scenes) livens the look of the film considerably, one cannot escape the sense of a good story gone sadly awry. Starring Antonio Banderas, Olivia Williams and Derek Jacobi. Directed and written by Jonas McCord. Produced by Rudy Cohen. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 99 min

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