'The Nativity Story' Stands on Familiar Ground The advertising for The Nativity Story has gotten this film's essence exactly wrong. This is not a chance to "experience the most timeless of stories as you've never seen it before." It's just the opposite. It's an opportunity, for those who want it, to encounter this story exactly the way its almost always been told.
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'The Nativity Story' Stands on Familiar Ground

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'The Nativity Story' Stands on Familiar Ground

Review

Arts & Life

'The Nativity Story' Stands on Familiar Ground

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Ever since Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ” proved there was money to be made in Christian dramas, Hollywood has been trying to cash in. The latest attempt is “The Nativity Story”.

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN: The advertising for “The Nativity Story” has gotten this film's essence exactly wrong. This is not a chance to experience the most timeless of stories as you've never seen it before, but just the opposite. It's an opportunity for those who want it to encounter this story exactly the way it's almost always been told.

(Soundbite of movie “The Nativity Story”)

Mr. OSCAR ISAAC (Actor): (As Joseph) For it is he who will saved his people from sin. I know, Mary, God showed me, an angel came to me in my dream.

Ms. KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES (Actress): (As Mary) You believe me.

Mr. OSCAR ISAAC (Actor): (As Joseph) I believe you.

TURAN: Catherine Hardwicke, whose work includes the fake-edgy “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown”, has made a super-earnest Classics Illustrated version of “The Nativity Story”. Her film was a cinematic Bible class that flatters the devout but has little to offer anyone who is not already a believer. This is a pity. First of all, as Pasolini's “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” beautifully demonstrated, transcendent films can be made from the story of Jesus' life.

It's also regrettable because “The Nativity Story” wastes the strong performance of 16-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary. She's an actress who projects quiet dignity and perfect naturalness. Castle-Hughes serves as the film's calm center and shows that her Oscar-nominated performance in “Whale Rider” was not a fluke.

(Soundbite of movie “The Nativity Story”)

Ms. KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES (Actress): (As Mary) Father, I have broken no vow.

Unidentified Man (Actor): Oh, you have broken every vow, Mary. Was it one of those (unintelligible) was it?

Ms. KEISHA CASTLE-HUGHES (Actress): (As Mary) I have told the truth. Whether you believe is your choice, not mine.

TURAN: Having a harder time is the excellent British actor Ciaran Hinds, who was stuck with an oily manner to go with his oily hair and oily beard as the perfidious Herod, King of Judea. This is one worried monarch, never smiling and obsessively asking anyone he meets, And what of the prophecy, the awaited Messiah? “The Nativity Story” also periodically checks in on the Three Wise Men, who are mostly played for comic relief. One of them is fond of saying things like, If I am right, and I usually am…

There's even a line about forgetting the map, but you get the idea. When the baby Jesus is finally born, the star the wise men have been following illuminates the manger like a massive klieg light at a big studio premiere. When Hollywood faces off against religion, you don't even have to ask which force will come out on top.

YDSTIE: Kenneth Turan is film critic for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. For more movie reviews and the lowdown on NPR's first holiday crafts contest, check out Five for Friday at npr.org.

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