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film review

Rooney Mara in Mary Magdalene (2018).See-Saw Films

  • Mary Magdalene
  • Directed by: Garth Davis
  • Written by: Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett
  • Starring: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor
  • Classification: 14A; 120 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

It took three days and three nights for Jesus to return, but more than a year for this film about Christ’s most puzzled-over follower to make it to North American theatres. Originally shot in 2016, Mary Magdalene got tempted into distribution hell before slipping out in 2018 to a muted U.K. and Australia release.

You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to see how director Garth Davis (the Nicole Kidman tear-jerker Lion) failed to generate the kind of response that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ engendered. Retelling the Greatest Story Ever Told should, after all, yield some bare minimum of dramatic tension. Yet, most of Davis’s effort is as flat and dry as the deserts of Judea, as if the director and screenwriters Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett forgot what it was they found interesting about their title character in the first place.

Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Rooney Mara as Mary in Mary Magdalene (2018).See-Saw Films

As the historically misunderstood Magdalene, the at-times dynamic Rooney Mara offers a too-quiet performance, often mistaking blankness for resolve. But it is not as if Joaquin Phoenix’s Jesus offers her much to bounce off of, resulting in a pairing that is shockingly dull.

Johann Johannsson’s comically overbearing score is just interesting enough to justify the entire project, but Mary Magdalene is ultimately an unnecessary cinematic resurrection.

Mary Magdalene opens April 12.

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