Billy Zane stars as Barabbas, the vicious criminal who in the Bible was released from prison right before Jesus Christ was taken to be crucified. The crowd there was given a choice to either release Jesus or Barabbas, and despite his terrible reputation, the crowd choose Brabbas. This mini-series strives to tell Brabbas’ story leading up to this event, as well as his redemption coming to Christianity after the fact. Barabbas at first feels like it’s going to show us a completely different perspective on the time and place in which Jesus lived. However, most of the mini-series is spent telling the story of Jesus (Marco Foschi), but from the point of view of someone slightly outside his inner circle of apostles. I was hoping for something a little bit closer to Ben-Hur, but really there can only be one Ben-Hur.
I did enjoy Billy Zane’s performance. It’s not his best work, but he’s doing the best he can with what he’s given. Plus, he’s surrounded by an embarrassingly lackluster supporting cast who all serve to make his performance better. Foschi’s Jesus is almost apathetic, which makes him incredibly uninteresting to watch. Cristiana Capotondi’s doe-eyed portrayal of Ester, Barabbas’ love interest, is ridiculously one dimensional. They meet in a brothel, but Barabbas can’t go through with having sex with her when she tells him it would be a sin against God. Huge turn off. Of course, the next time they meet, she falls in love with him for no apparent reason, so I guess it’s not a sin anymore. Plus, it sounded like all of Ester’s lines were dubbed over. I don’t know if they just had huge sound problems, or if Capotondi had an accent that they later decided to record over, or what, but it sounds ridiculous. A couple of other smaller characters also sounded like their lines were recorded in post-production.
Filippo Nigro offers a good performance as Pontius Pilate, and I wish he had more screen time. In fact, the whole mini-series being about Pilate would have been an interesting way to go. His wife, Claudia (Anna Vale), is about on par with the Ester character in terms of watchability. She does have an interesting character trait in that she secretly goes to listen to Jesus speak in defiance of her husband, but her character arc ultimately goes nowhere.
This could have been a really interesting story, where Barabbas (actually portrayed as the hardened criminal we’ve always imagined from the story) wreaks havoc after his release and the audience is treated to a new tragedy directly related to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But this feels more like a story about how anyone who opens their heart to Jesus’ teachings will become a better person. It’s more complicated than that, and not acknowledging those complications makes this story too unbelievable to enjoy. It feels like it’s intended audience is children, who can be indoctrinated with words and ideas, rather than adults who have their faith established and destroyed by real-world events.
Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Vivendi Entertainment.