There’s never really been any evidence that Mary Magdalene was the sinful prostitute history painted her as.
As a supporting character in other biblical-themed films, her tarnished reputation made for a serviceable arc as she was placed predominantly in the background. For Mary Magdalene, Australian director Garth Davis (Lion) has worked with historians in a bid to return the character to her rightful place as the 13th apostle, garnering a closeness to Jesus that went beyond the depths of supposed “rock” Peter.
Placing Mary at the forefront is a bold choice, and Davis certainly hones the sombre spirituality needed to lace the story, but anyone hoping for a story overtly romanticised or heavy on movement best check their expectations at the door as this slow burning drama takes its time in detailing its story.
Rooney Mara is very much this film, the alluring actress rarely out of frame, and you certainly can’t fault her dedication to the role, even if it offers little in terms of excitement.
As for Joaquin Phoenix, he has the right stoic gaze and soft-enough vocals to successfully evoke the image of Jesus, but perhaps his American accent lets him down in terms of authenticity, something that also keeps a stern reminder for the audience that this isn’t entirely a film to be lost inside.
The correct intentions are there for Davis, and for a film that liberates Mary from the clichéd description of a fallen woman it’s quite timely given the current climate of the #MeToo movement, but the best of intentions don’t always equate to a worthy film.
There will no doubt be audiences that will respond positively – I sense faith-based audiences will be its biggest champions – but the general moviegoing public will probably find this all a bit too heavy if light viewing is what they seek.
Mary Magdalene is in cinemas today. Watch the trailer below: