No, the Virgin Mary doesn't get high on aerosol fumes, and Joseph doesn't ride in on a skateboard, but in most other respects The Nativity Story is less of a departure than you might expect for Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown director Catherine Hardwicke: It's a movie about the difficulties of adolescence, whether the time is now or B.C. The most radical conceit here -- at least for a movie positioned as a holiday perennial for red-state America -- is that most of the major roles are played by actors of Algerian, Iranian, Israeli, and Sudanese descent, while Mary (Whale Rider star Keisha Castle-Hughes) is a Maori and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) is Guatemalan. In short, their skin is dark, which makes this the first Hollywood religious picture in memory (if not ever) to imply that Jesus Christ probably looked more like Jim Brown than Jim Caviezel. Still, The Nativity Story does only so much to enliven a drama that has been playing out in Sunday schools and on suburban lawns for centuries, while Hardwicke, with her former production designer's eye for intimate detail, shows greater affinity for inanimate objects than living actors.
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Mike Rich
Producer: Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey
Cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Ciarán Hinds, Shaun Toub and Alexander Siddig