• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Sunday, May 09, 2010

    The Agent (2009)

    The Agent is the third of Saltmine's trilogy of short films modernising the Jesus story. Like its predecessors (The Follower and The King) the film stars Richard Hasnip and is split into three short sections. But whereas The Follower was solely based on the Easter story, and each of the three parts of The King were about the Nativity, the three stories here are less obviously connected. What ties them together however is Hasnip's role as the eponymous agent who both features in, but also narrates his own story.

    The agent is paid by the Sanhedrin to spot potential troublemakers, and gather evidence that can then be used to discredit them or to destroy them. Left to their own devices such zealots could cause Rome to intervene. Having heard about John the Baptist the Sanhedrin set the agent on the Baptist's trail, but when he witnesses an encounter between the Baptist and Jesus his curiosity is aroused. Following him into the desert he observes him for 40 days and so witnesses, first hand, his encounter with the devil.

    The scene is notable for a number of reasons. We see White using a various techniques that go beyond his work in the previous films. As the agent looks through his binoculars the camera-work changes to a more hand-held style. We also see some special effects and CGI giving extra impact to the temptations. White must have been tempted (himself) to use these new techniques in various other places throughout the film, but, if so, he wisely reined in any such impulses. By using these two techniques here, and pretty much only here, it also emphasises the more psychological aspects of this scene.

    The scene is strongly reminiscent of the same incident in Jesus (1999). Not only does it also use CGI to flesh out the temptations, but it also features a black-suited devil. This satan however delivers a nice line in dry humour and sarcasm that manages to inject a bit of humour without detracting form the gravitas the scene requires.

    The other two episodes of the film tell the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11), as well as continuing the story of the unnamed agent. The Follower was effectively three separate films - even the format and style were different between the different parts - whereas The King was clearly one film with a couple of breaks. This film falls somewhere in between with the episodes of Jesus' life being essentially separate whilst the agent's story really only makes sense across all three parts. It could have hampered the production, but it actually makes using clips from the film easy, whilst still delivering a strong narrative when the film is taken as a whole. And there's a nice twist, of sorts, which brings the question of how it relates to our lives significantly closer.The other significant difference between this film and the earlier ones is that The Agent has a significantly bigger cast. In addition to Hasnip's role as the agent and Job Buckeridge's Jesus there are also a number of significant speaking roles (John the Baptist, Satan, the woman caught in adultery, Mary and Martha) as well as various smaller parts (disciples, Sanhedrin members, members of the crowd, mourners etc.). This has obviously given a number of opportunities to a large number of less experienced actors, and in general they do well with the difficult task of modernising a story set two thousand years ago. No easy task. The hardest role to pull off is of course that of Jesus, but Jon Buckeridge does reasonably well with an exceptionally difficult task. His is a passionate and human Jesus, although he doesn't have quite the force of personality that I suspect the real Jesus would have had.

    Hasnip turns in another decent performance as the agent. As with the earlier films he is the only person to address the camera meaning we very much relate to him and experience the events that unfold through his point of view. It's interesting, then, that he's decked out in an orange boiler suit with strong echoes of Guantanamo Bay. This not only makes the audience sympathise with him, but it also subtly raises a few questions that go beyond the scope of the story. What does it mean that this Jewish member of the establishment is dressed like a Muslim anti-establishment terrorist? How would Jesus react to those suspected of terrorist acts.

    It's the first time in the series that Hasnip has really interacted with the other characters, although generally it's as an observer (again playing the role of the audience), and there's an interesting contrast between his passivity in these scenes and the activity in the to-the-camera scenes. It's also the first time I've seen him work with someone else's script (though I'm sure he is no stranger to it), and whilst there are a couple of weak lines, Craig Edgar's script is generally fairly good, certainly the way it structures and frames the material works well.

    The film's biggest weaknesses is the scenes with the Sanhedrin. They sit in a darkened room and the intention seems to be that they speak with sinister voices, but, if so, it doesn't really work. And whilst the script is clear that the Sanhedrin are very much under pressure from the Romans, it's impossible to sympathise with them in any way, so that we're left with the unfortunate correlation that the only Jewish figures who aren't also Christians, are the baddies.

    Given that this is an independent film made on a low budget by a bunch of filmmakers whose primary goal is not Jewish-Christian relations, this is a fairly minor quibble, particularly as there are a number of strong points on display as well. White's camera-work is particularly note-worthy with its carefully crafted shots and interesting use of light and shade. And in a sense it's that which sums up the agent's story as much as anything else as having spent so much of his 'life' in the dark we finally see him squinting in the light.


    You can buy a DVD of The Agent or watch the trailer at Saltmine Trust.


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