It is a greater crime for a film to be boring than bad, for at least the latter elicits an emotion. Their flaws shine out like diamonds in a mine and burn themselves into your mind. A pseudo-reward for your time by teaching you to choose better next time. Whereas a boring film distressingly absorbs the viewer’s life for little recompense. Mary Magdalene is such a project.
Director Garth Davis, of Lion acclaim, promises a revisionist take on a much-maligned and mistreated woman in history. The story of Mary of Magdala is one largely untouched by the realms of cinema, and the opening 30 minutes heralds an encouraging start. Rooney Mara, excellent as usual, brings an empathetic, strong, volatile take on the character, who refuses to kowtow to society’s prescribed role for her. Her work is complimented by gorgeous imagery from DoP Greig Fraser, and a score of depth and soulful beauty from the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson.
The issues arrive in the form of Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix) and his apostles (an excellent Tahar Rahim as a misguided Judas), where the marketing tagline ‘Her Story Will Be Told’ is promptly and wholly forgotten. Whether one believes or not, Mary Magdalene offers nothing new, invigorating or interesting. The remainder of the plot hits all the key notes of the Easter story with minor lip-service to Mary, treating her as a fly-on-the-wall journalist garnering additional points of view on Jesus and the apostles’ feelings. Therein lies the fatal flaw: our protagonist is a side character, encouraging from the audience as to why the film exists at all.
Mary Magdalene is beautiful to look at, well performed by Rahim and Mara, and gorgeous to listen to. However its failure to achieve its primary goal of telling the story of Mary of Magdala is indefensible.
CAST: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Tahar Rahim, Chiwetel Ejiofor
DIRECTOR: Garth Davis
WRITERS: Helen Edmundson, Philippa Goslett
SYNOPSIS: After a miracle-performing Rabbi named Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix) visits her village on the coast of Galilee, Mary of Magdala (Rooney Mara) leaves her home and family to join him as his newest disciple, and witnesses the key events during the final months of his life.