Television Listings

Rachel Weisz stars in religious epic "Agora"

 Actress Rachel Weisz poses at the Los Angeles premiere of the film
Actress Rachel Weisz poses at the Los Angeles premiere of the film 'The Wrestler' in Beverly Hills, California December 16, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser
— image credit: Reuters

By Natasha Senjanovic

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - Although no self-respecting epic can come in at less than two hours, Alejandro Amenabar will nevertheless need good word-of-mouth to attract wider audiences willing to sit through 144 minutes and a heavy-handed beginning in his new film, "Agora." Hopefully, he will get it.

Amenabar gets most of the epic staples out of the way relatively early: flatly acted scenes of textbook exposition, overly earnest extras, main characters who wander unscathed through hordes of butchery and, of course, frequently swelling music. The story then becomes a timely parable on religious intolerance, inexorable fundamentalist violence and the powerlessness of reason and personal freedom in the face of both.

The heart of the film is Hypatia (Rachel Weisz in an unfaltering performance), the fourth century AD philosopher and teacher who lived in Alexandria during the Roman Empire. Married only to her unquenchable intellect and passion for mathematics and astronomy, she is loved by two men: her slave, Davus (Max Minghella), and her student, Orestes (Oscar Isaac).

Politics in the film are weakest during the overtly political speeches and monologues, and best captured in the details. Like many, Davus seeks not spiritual salvation in the Christian uprising but freedom from slavery, despite the bloodshed. His first attempt at prayer is brilliant: Unable to remember the Lord's Prayer, he quickly falls into a mantra to God to keep Hypatia away from Orestes. For his part, Orestes will renounce paganism and convert to Christianity during his rise in Roman politics.

Amenabar and screenwriter Mateo Gil adeptly show that each character's destiny is written from the onset. As is history when hatred and power lust are corruptly instrumentalized in the name of a single, incontestable truth.

There is also no question as to what side the filmmakers are on. The Christians in "Agora" are more preoccupied with slaughtering than spirituality and the only truly principled character is Hypatia the atheist, who may have come close to proving that the Earth revolves around the sun 1,200 years before Johannes Kepler. She is the only one who never sacrifices her unwavering "faith," in reason and intellectual freedom, for personal gain.

It is a pleasure to see Weisz's scenes of scientific inquiry, which capture the passion of research and discovery without artifice or pretension. That the scientist is a woman makes it all the more engaging.

The entire cast comes through very well after the shaky beginning, and while Minghella says little he has good screen presence. However, the biggest surprises are the lesser-known supporting actors: Isaac; Sammy Samir as a bishop seemingly devoid of human emotion; and Ashraf Barhom, whose Ammonious, a Christian Parabalani, is the epitome of a devout-less thug.

(Editing by Dean Goodman)

(please visit our entertainment blog via www.reuters.com or on http://blogs.reuters.com/fanfare/)

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

You might like ...

In Theatres: Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler; Maps to the Stars; Before I Go to Sleep (VIDEO)
 
Kelowna artist Carrie Harper initiates international effort
 
Davis: Actor Peter Berg adds to impressive resumé as a director
Rotary connector trail extension enhances Rails to Trails project
 
The Eclectic Show to take place on Oct. 20
 
White Spider entertains in Prince Rupert
Brian Rosen recalls good times had on The Royal stage
 
For love of powder
 
The Funk Hunters set to play Nelson

Community Events, October 2014

Add an Event

Read the latest eEdition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Oct 31 edition online now. Browse the archives.