The makers of the religious film “Joshua” seem sincere in what they’re trying to do. The problem is, it’s hard to tell what that is, exactly.
It is a parable about a man named Joshua (Tony Goldwyn), a mysterious stranger who ambles into a small town and saves it, while simultaneously working various acts of carpentry. It is obvious he is a Jesus figure, and maybe even Jesus himself: He teaches a man to fish, heals a blind woman and raises a man from the dead. When he’s asked to carve a statue of St. Peter and the asker begins to explain who that is, he says, “I know Peter.”
Like Jesus, Joshua upsets the local religious leaders, here represented by the Catholic church and Father Tardone (F. Murray Abraham). His version of God is angry and fearsome, while Joshua’s version is loving and kind. Tardone is suspicious of Joshua and thinks he’s establishing some kind of cult.
Tardone’s underling, Father Pat (Kurt Fuller), is not nearly so judgmental. He becomes friends with Joshua and helps him rebuild the local Baptist church that was knocked down by a storm a year ago.
The townspeople react to Joshua with curiosity, and he touches their lives in various, predictable ways, dispensing wise, obtuse advice like a Zen version of Ann Landers.
The parallel to Jesus’ ministry is clear, and becomes more so as time goes on. But then the parallels stop working. Instead of walking ON water, for example, Joshua walks IN water, which isn’t nearly as impressive.
It’s inconsistent, too. The film derides the Catholic church, but then allows the Pope to have the same Christ-given priesthood authority as Peter — which, if true, means you had better quit deriding the Catholic church!
And then there is this question: What is the point? The film is not likely to win new converts to Christianity; it seems aimed at people who are already believers. Yet it offers little nourishment or enlightenment for them. A man whose life parallels Christ’s is an interesting idea, but you need more than ideas to make a film work. You need a point.
Is the point that if Jesus walked among us in this day and age, we might not recognize him? That doesn’t work in the film, because most of the characters follow Joshua devotedly. None of them says, “Hey, I think this guy is Jesus,” but they certainly don’t reject him, either. If the question is, “Would we recognize Jesus today?,” then the answer is apparently, “Yeah, sort of.”
Some of the smaller roles are rough around the edges, but the principal acting is strong enough. It is not an objectionable or dull film; it merely lacks everything except good intentions.
C+ (; )