‘Mary Magdalene’

Thirteen months after Mary Magdalene perished at Australian cinemas, the Biblical saga directed by Garth Davis probably did not have a prayer of getting a warmer reception in the US.

So it proved last weekend as the See-Saw Films production starring Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor was released on 62 screens by IFC Films.

Meanwhile Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai continues to earn tidy sums in the US for Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures. The thriller starring Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs and Tilda Cobham-Hervey collected $863,000 in its third weekend wide, playing on 617 screens.

The film produced by Basil Iwanyk, Gary Hamilton, Mike Gabrawy, Julie Ryan, Andrew Ogilvie and Jomon Thomas has generated $8 million in the US, outperforming Australia’s $3.1 million after five weekends, never having recovered from opening on the same weekend as the Christchurch massacre.

Mary Magdalene fetched $62,436, a per screen average of $1,007. IFC Films acquired the film scripted by Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett after The Weinstein Company collapsed.

Released here by Transmission Films, the film produced by Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Liz Watts wound up with $552,000. According to Box Office Mojo, the worldwide total is $11.6 million led by Italy’s $1.7 million, Germany’s $1.2 million and Spain’s $1.1 million.

The US critics generally were no kinder than those in Australia and elsewhere, reflected in the 44 per cent rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty branded the film as lifeless and inert and likened the experience to watching actors staging a well-funded passion play, observing: “Mara, whose beatific smile and angular features can resemble an Eastern Orthodox icon painting, does her best with not enough. As for the film’s Jesus, he seems completely miscast. Joaquin Phoenix can be a singularly intense and vibrant actor, but you never buy him as the film’s messiah.”

The Observer’s Rex Reed asked rhetorically: “If the son of God dedicated his life to building a kingdom of peace and justice for the poor and oppressed, could it be that he was a thumping bore while doing it? Why is he so unexciting in every Biblical epic ever filmed? Couldn’t Jesus be charismatic and engaging at least once at the movies?”

The Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang was almost a lone voice in finding the movie an imperfect but affecting vision of New Testament times, declaring: “With considerable grace and beguiling modesty, the movie frames its subject as one of Christ’s most discerning followers and a crucial witness to his ministry, death and resurrection.”

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