If the idea of a film aiming to set the story straight of Mary Magdalene, starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus of Nazareth, sounds a little dry and earnest, then you'd be right.
Director Garth Davis (Lion), attempts to correct the assertion by the Catholic Church (credited to Pope Gregory in the 6th century), that Mary was a prostitute. In this naturalistic and sparse revisionist film, Davis instead presents a young woman pushing back against the patriarchal society of first century C.E, leaving her family to follow and serve Jesus as one of his disciples.
Davis also suggests Mary (Mara) was closer to Jesus in his final months than his rock, Peter, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
He makes his point. If you grew up with the impression Mary was a sinful woman, you'll likely be swayed by Mary Magdalene. There's an air of authenticity, largely thanks to striking cinematography capturing the vast deserts and inhospitable coast of the Holy Land, and a bustling Jerusalem.
What's missing is passion and drama, and Romans - and an acknowledgement that those who go to the cinema have paid to watch a film rather than to go to sleep.
While Rooney and Phoenix tend to the somber, the casting is excellent for this style of film. Phoenix's portrayal of Jesus takes a restrained approach and compares favourably with other recent portrayals of the man such as Jim Caviezel's The Passion of the Christ.
A proliferation of close-up shots captures the angst and turmoil surrounding Jesus and Mary, although in the case of Mara Rooney's mind whirling we're not always sure what she's thinking.
Like Phoenix's Jesus, you'll need to take a patient and accepting approach to Mary Magdalene.
Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix
M (Adult Themes)
A pious, slow drama that introduces Mary, the feminist.