Forgive my cynicism, but it's hard to overlook the reality that "Nativity Story" was born out of sheer greed, placed into production after Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" won the box office lottery two years back. New Line Cinema isn't making this film for the spiritual rewards, that's for sure.
Where else can you go after the crucifixion of Christ? To the day he was born; number two with a bullet on the Baby Jesus highlight reel. The story of Mary and Joseph, the Three Wise Men, and the manger has been told a million times over, in all realms of imagination. For the latest screen incarnation, director Catherine Hardwicke has been brought on to give the familiar story new life.
How the producers decided on Hardwicke, I would love to know. After suffering through her blossoming-teen apocalypse drama "Thirteen," and the moronic skateboard epic, "Lords of Dogtown," Hardwicke shouldn't be allowed to direct traffic much less the biggest holiday story of them all. After viewing "Nativity," I get the feeling Hardwicke felt the same way, since she approaches this story with a respectful distance that completely contradicts her previous, visually tiring motion pictures.
That distance is what eventually deflates "Nativity." Hardwicke plays the film so straightforwardly that it chokes the life right out of it. The director is afraid to twist the narrative in any alternate directions, and the film seems to mummify right in front of your eyes. Everything is handled with an anvil-like importance, forgetting that, in essence, this is tale of great joy and hope. Hardwicke seems to mourn the story, electing to use a pea-green desaturated look that bores the eyes, and encouraging her Mary, actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, to leaden her line delivery in a false bid for widescreen gravity.
Screenwriter Mike Rich's efforts to fatten up the story for a feature-length film only seem to annoyingly delay the inevitable. The oddest inclusion is the Three Wise Men, imagined here as slightly kooky astrologists and bickering bosom buddies. Hardwicke also draws out Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem to exhausting lengths, in a stab to make the audience feel the burden of the treacherous passage. Instead, she bores further, seemingly padding the film before we're allowed the comfort of the manger miracle.
"Nativity" does kick up some major Christmas vibes in the final moments, setting a reassuring mood. It's disappointing that Hardwicke didn't try to spread that feeling all over the rest of the picture. "Nativity Story" is a cold, emotionless calculation, ultimately forgetting that in the middle of it all was a rather simple tale of love.
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