Tag Archives: Biopic

Review: The Message [a.k.a. Mohammad, Messenger of God]

Director: Moustapha Akkad
Year: 1976
Score: 5.5/10

If this movie is to be believed, most of Mohammad's enemies died because they used rubber swords.

If this movie is to be believed, most of Mohammad’s enemies died because they used rubber swords.

Strange combination of historical epic and religious propaganda. In a sense, the nearest comparison would be Ben-Hur; unfortunately, this is no Ben-Hur.

It tells the story of Mohammad and the birth of Islam but it’s hamstrung by its adherence to Islamic beliefs regarding depictions of Mohammad. An opening card informs the audience: “The makers of this film honour the Islamic tradition which holds that the impersonation of the Prophet offends against the spirituality of his message. Therefore, the person of Mohammad will not be shown”. Consequently we get an epic biopic missing its protagonist, instead resorting to ridiculous workarounds such as showing his camel’s head (he’s supposedly just off-screen!) and shooting some sequences from his point of view (placing his staff in frame as though it’s a weapon in a first-person shooter game!).

Other than that, the story is told in a fairly conservative, straightforward way, hammering home the view that Mohammad’s opponents were driven by greed and that his message was just totally awesome and should have been immediately taken up by everyone. There’s a lot of time spent on the efforts of the merchants and leaders of Mecca to suppress the growing movement, so much so that it’s almost two hours before we get a proper battle scene. When the battles start things do pick up a bit, but by then it’s a case of too little too late.

There are some fair performances and it held my interest all the way through (that’s three hours!); it just isn’t the kind of straight historical epic I wanted it to be. Perhaps part of the problem, and the source of the sense that it amounts to religious propaganda, is that (as explicitly stated in another opening card) its content was vetted by an Islamic university in Cairo and something called the “High Islamic Congress of the Shiat in Lebanon” (which, when googled, leads only to references to this film).

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Review: Ray

Director: Taylor Hackford
Year: 2004
Score: 7/10

Surely the only movie I've seen that features both Bunk and Willow.

Surely the only movie I’ve seen that features both Bunk and Willow.

There are three drawcards here: Jamie Foxx’s powerhouse performance as Ray Charles; lots of great Charles music used well throughout, including some pivotal musical moments; and the story of his rise, compelling despite flaws in the telling. Foxx is truly excellent and fully deserving of the Oscar he won. He basically does a spot-on impression of Charles, but his commitment and the emotional depth he conveys elevate the performance well beyond mere imitation. It’s a real shame the movie is let down by its lack of subtlety and its simplistic approach to the ‘conflicts’ in Charles’ life selected to be the points of drama: his drug addiction, his womanising, and his guilt over a childhood tragedy. In particular, making the drug story so central and tying it to that tragedy – and then wrapping it all up with the most unsubtle flashback sequence of the whole film – doesn’t really work. There’s also a disappointing old-fashionedness to director Taylor Hackford’s approach, perhaps best exemplified by the use of newspaper headlines and neon signs floating across the screen to indicate media coverage and concert venues; surely we’re done with that technique by now? Nonetheless, the aforementioned drawcards are easily enough to make it worth watching.