Revival! Imaginative Gospel Re-Telling of Christ’s Life Opens On Good Friday

By Jonathan Leaf Published on April 18, 2019

The best ideas are simple.

Proof arrives in movie theaters on Good Friday.  A new version of the Gospels is told through gospel music. Revival! is the brainchild of one of the finest stage actors of our time, Harry Lennix. He is perhaps best known for his role as FBI Assistant Counterterrorism Director Harold Cooper on the TV show The Blacklist. But he has long been beloved by theater fans. There he has astonished audiences with his performances in Shakespearean tragedies and modern dramas by playwrights like August Wilson.

An Actor of Faith

Yet, no matter what type of acting Lennix is recognized for, audiences are unlikely to know something about him that he considers of greater importance. He is a man of faith. Indeed, he had once planned to become a seminarian. This devotion inspired him to write and help produce this remarkable new feature. Here old-time spirituals, including beloved classics like “Down By The Riverside,” are used in an imaginative re-telling of the Christ story.

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Lennix appears in the film as well, taking on the role of Pontius Pilate. And he functions as a narrator as the film opens before an audience in a present-day theater. From there, we move back to first century Palestine. A honey-voiced young singer who goes by the name of Mali Music plays Jesus. Like most but not all of the performers, he is African-American.

Better than Many Hollywood Lives of Christ

The emphasis in this version of Christ’s life is on telling the tale through music and dance, and the quality of the acting varies. It is not always at the consistently high – might I say exalted? – level of the voices. Still, there are no ridiculous clunkers of the sort that turn up in central roles in previous screen accounts of the Passion. Most notorious of those were Jeffrey Hunter as Christ in King of Kings and Harvey Keitel as his betrayer in The Last Temptation of Christ. (In the former instance, Jesus came across like a Waikiki beach surfer. In the latter instance Judas seemed to be from a section of the Holy Land somewhere in Brooklyn.)
 

REVIVAL! Trailer MPAA from TriCoast Studios on Vimeo.
 
Among the standouts alongside Lennix in Revival! are Lost star Anthony Azizi. He plays the role of Judas, while Victoria Gabrielle Platt is excellent in the part of a temptress sent to seduce Jesus by Satan (Ahmed Ahmed). Music veteran Chaka Khan has a memorable turn, as well, as King Herod’s wife.

Some Modern Touches that Work

The direction is credited to Danny Green. I confess that I am not familiar with his earlier work. Regardless, what he offers us in Revival is inventive and not limited by strict literalism. Just as the music consciously aims to match styles from past and present, so also does the film’s visual style. Thus, when Jesus retreats to the desert for forty days, the temptations presented to him are not only those which Christ might have seen in the Judaean Desert. Among Jesus’ visions are a demonic child sitting on top of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. This little boy tries to persuade Christ to test his powers by attempting suicide. Similarly, as Pilate prepares himself to decide Christ’s fate, the film presents images from Soviet Russia and other infamous hotbeds of atheism.

Here old-time spirituals, including beloved classics like “Down By The Riverside,” are used in an imaginative re-telling of the Christ story.

Coming in at a crisp running time of one hour forty-five minutes, Revival! nonetheless manages to relate most of the key episodes from the Gospel According to John. Jesus’s first encounters with his disciples and the Marriage at Cana are depicted. So, too, is the Miracle of the Fishes and the Loaves, the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, the Last Supper, the Passion and the Resurrection. In all of these, the singing is rousing and exceptionally beautiful. For those who believe, Revival is likely to be a film of enormous appeal. That’s the gospel truth.

 

 

Opening on April 19, Revival! will play in theaters nationwide this weekend. 

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