The 2014 epic "Noah" got slammed for taking liberties with the source material which was admittedly thin in the first place.
We don’t know every detail tied to Noah, the Ark and rain that fell for 40 days and 40 nights.
We know even less about the childhood of Jesus Christ. “The Young Messiah” tries to fill in those blanks.
Director Cyrus Nowrasteh, working from Anne Rice’s book “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt: A Novel,” fluidly fills in those gaps. What emerges is a form of Biblical fiction that doesn’t leave out faith or those who might lack it entirely.
Adam Greaves-Neal stars as the seven-year-old son of God, a lad who doesn’t grasp his holy lineage. Parents Joseph and Mary (Vincent Walsh and Sara Lazzaro) aren’t sure how to explain it to him. He’s too young, too immature to understand what his existence means.
Young Jesus keeps making miracles happen all the same. That catches the attention of more than just the locals. A Roman soldier (Sean Bean, who else?) is tasked by Herod to kill Jesus lest word of his miracles take root. Roman might is the only power that matters.
Slowly, the boy realizes what he is capable of achieving. But what does it mean?
“How do we explain God to His own son?” his parents wonder.
Greaves-Neal is given an enormous burden in playing Jesus as a boy, and he mostly delivers. It’s a quiet performance, so very boy like and age appropriate. It’s one critical way “The Young Messiah” goes beyond its expected demographic. Every parents withholds something from their child. The awful headlines. The realities of death and dying. The dysfunction around beloved friends and neighbors.
Parents must let that world in slowly, carefully, so the child can properly process it. Now, imagine what Joseph and Mary had to deal with given their offspring?
He’s a young lad with questions. His parents have some, not all, of the answers. Is he ready to hear them?
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The miracles depicted in “The Young Messiah” are delicately delineated. Some appear obvious, others happen in a less orchestrated fashion. Less successful is the Devil-like character (Rory Keenan) who floats through the story, manipulating people to conspire against Jesus. He sports a dyed blond goatee that feels more like a tribute band member than something the Devil might assume.
It’s a role that should be underplayed with alacrity, not given a twinkle and smirk.
Unlike stuffier Bible tales, “Messiah” abounds with small details, gestures and moments that make it feel far less like a sermon. The source material, in essence, doesn’t exist.. Rice conjured up her tale, and now Nowrasteh and co. are performing a similar trick.
Sly symbolism helps make it work, like an apple that turns a simple run into a deadly affair.
Bean, born to play figures from another age, excels as the villain who simply does as told. He’s neither cruel nor calculating, but there’s intelligence behind his actions. He obeys, but he still sees more than just the commands.
The film’s set pieces, likely maintained under a modest budget, are more than necessary.
Nowrasteh brings a haunting beauty to simply moments, his camera caressing the landscape and characters in a way that gives them a vibrant edge.
His script, cowritten with wife Betsy Nowrasteh, is equally well-rounded. It’s neither too formal or lacking the gentle humor a story like this demands.
“The Young Messiah” is conjecture cinema, but as a narrative stab at Jesus’ early years it feels remarkably like it hits the mark.