A Powerful Man of 'Color'

Jean-Claude LaMarre directs and stars as Christ in
Jean-Claude LaMarre directs and stars as Christ in "Color of the Cross," which recounts the last hours of Christ. (Rocky Mountain Pictures)
Friday, October 27, 2006

Many are calling "Color of the Cross" controversial, but it's really not. It doesn't make an argument at all; it simply states a possibility -- that Christ was a man of color -- which it dramatizes earnestly within the narrow confines of its $2.5 million budget and the limited resources of its production crew.

Written, directed and starring Jean-Claude LaMarre as Christ, the movie pretty much follows the same narrative ground as Mel Gibson's 10-times-more-expensive "The Passion of the Christ," that is, the last two days in Christ's life. Of course, there are differences. This feels like a cramped, TV-style retelling, with small groups of people, no special effects, in some ways almost cheesy. But the real differences are thematic: Gibson's film was really about the physical ordeal of that form of death as a vessel for the sacrifice's soul passage onward. This Christ bleeds profusely, but the dramatic impact from the truncating of the story is to make the issue of color more paramount. The image cannot be forgotten, and it matches, in its way, with troubled recollections of lynching photos all of us have seen.

Yet it's a fundamentally Christian film, not meant to divide; for example, LaMarre casts a black man (Johann John Jean) as Judas and then labors mightily to find enough blame to go around: Jewish elders are presented as old men rationally willing to gamble that the man before them in judgment is not the Messiah, as opposed to blind, fearful haters; the Romans are weary professional soldier types pretty much content to nail anyone if they think it will make their duty day easier to bear in far-off Judea.

-- Stephen Hunter

Color of the Cross Unrated, 88 minutes Contains scenes of bleeding that suggest a rating right on the PG/PG-13 line. At AMC Magic Johnson Capital Centre, Marlow Theatres and Phoenix Union Station.

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