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Originally published February 27, 2014 at 12:07 AM | Page modified February 27, 2014 at 2:16 PM

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‘Son of God’: Not the greatest story ever told, but it has spirit

A three-star movie review of “Son of God,” a spinoff of the History Channel miniseries “The Bible” with Diogo Morgado as Jesus.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Son of God,’ with Diogo Morgado, Sebastian Knapp, Greg Hicks, Darwin Shaw, Joe Wredden. Directed by Christopher Spencer, from a screenplay by Spencer, Richard Bedser, Colin Swash and Nic Young. 138 minutes. Rated PG-13 for crucifixion scene. Several theaters.

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What a pleasant surprise: a biblical film that doesn’t turn into a gory freak show or a speculation about the marital status of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Instead, “Son of God” offers a rational, straightforward, contemporary take on the life of Jesus, filmed in Morocco and starring a Portuguese actor, Diogo Morgado, who brings an infectiously revolutionary spirit to the central role. His recruiting of Peter (Darwin Shaw) is especially effective.

At the same time, Morgado suggests a questioning prophet who isn’t entirely sure of his powers. This is clearly a man who could predict Judas and Peter’s betrayals of him and wonder, from the cross, if his God had forsaken him.

The movie is a big-screen spinoff of last year’s History Channel miniseries, “The Bible,” in which Morgado also played Jesus. It rarely looks like a television byproduct, though there’s a rushed quality to the introduction of several characters, including Judas (Joe Wredden) and Pontius Pilate (a truly scary Greg Hicks). Will there be a longer version on DVD?

The modern tone was intentional. The co-producer, Mark Burnett, recently told The New York Times that sending Pilate to the Holy Land would be like “sending someone to be the ambassador to Afghanistan right now.” Burnett calls the result “a political thriller,” and to a degree it succeeds on that level.

“Son of God” isn’t a great or necessary film, but it brings the gospels and the teachings of Jesus back to center stage. The miracles are there, and so is an unambiguous resurrection, so the movie is likely to satisfy believers who felt alienated by such crude blockbusters as “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Da Vinci Code.”

John Hartl:

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