Movie review: ‘Young Messiah’ explores unwritten history of Jesus
–We are just over a week away from Easter Sunday, the most important day of the year for Christians. It’s a time when we remember Jesus’ life, ministry and sacrifice.
Much has been written about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. His words and ministry are chronicled in great detail. Yet there is much of his life that is unknown. In the Bible, Jesus’ birth narrative is captured, and his ministry is captured, but his life as a child, a teen and a young adult is hardly referenced.
Anne Rice, the novelist who wrote “Interview With A Vampire,” was drawn to Jesus’ life during that time upon her return to the Catholic Church. She wrote “Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt,” a historical fiction novel that follows a young Jesus Christ from age seven to eight. Rice’s work in that novel served as the basis for a new film, “The Young Messiah,” released just in time for Easter.
The film begins with Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal) living with his family in Egypt, seemingly unaware of who he really is. After some trouble in Egypt, his father Joseph (Vincent Walsh) and mother Mary (Sara Lazzaro) declare it’s time to return to Israel. King Herod, who had ordered the baby boys born in Bethlehem killed, has died, and the threat seems to have passed.
Jesus and his family make their way home — to the land of his birth, but a land he’s never known. Jesus has a sense that he’s different, and that he’s the reason his family fled Israel in the first place, but he doesn’t understand why. Mary, Joseph and others have kept Jesus’ identity a secret from him, fearing his young mind couldn’t fully appreciate it.
Back in Israel, they find a land still soaked in violence and blood. A Roman soldier, Severus (Sean Bean), has been tasked by Herod’s son with finding the so-called Messiah. He seeks the boy everywhere, often violently.
Jesus, meanwhile, is coming into his power and performing miraculous signs. His search for answers leads him to the temple in Jerusalem, and right into the path of the soldiers who seek him.
For all that we know about Jesus from the Bible and history, his life as a child is somewhat of a blank page. This story is meant to explore that time and meant to explore who Jesus was, even as a young child. In that sense, it works to pose larger questions and get people thinking about God.
Director Cyrus Nowrasteh, who co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Betsy, takes great care to honor who Jesus is in Scripture while telling a fictional story about his life. Though this isn’t the Jesus we typically see on screen, the film remains faithful to who God sent him to be.
From a purely cinematic standpoint, however, “The Young Messiah” is just OK. It’s a bit dry as a movie. The performances are passable, but none are exceptional. The story lags at times and then, just as quickly, seems to comes to an end. There’s the germ of a good idea here that is, perhaps, more explored in the book. But in terms of being a film, it doesn’t quite work.
This is a film that honors Jesus Christ as Lord, and treats the subject with reverence. It will likely appeal to Christians interested in exploring a subject not addressed in Scripture. But as a stand-alone film it’s likely not compelling enough to draw big crowds. And it lacks the big emotional punch of “Risen,” a recently released film about Jesus post-resurrection that also aims to tell a powerful story of faith, in part, through the eyes of a Roman soldier.
“The Young Messiah” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some violence and thematic elements.
Two stars out of four.