Agora: Not lacking for conviction or cojones, Alejandro Amenábar's Agora is a big, broad, stridently atheistic sword-and-sandals entertainment that recounts a tragic turning point in world history. Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia, a brilliant astronomer in 4th-century Alexandria whose life and work is increasingly threatened by a bloody societal shift toward reactionary, virulent Christianity. To its credit, the film calls out Christianity's ignominious imperialism and locates a valid historical analogue to the religious extremism of today. Yet good intentions shan't save Amenábar from his own ham-fisted methods. It's one thing to depict crusaders hurling a cynic onto hot coals, ritually slaughtering pagans, stoning and massacring Jews, and enforcing total faith—but need they wear uniformly dark, ragged cloaks and snarl through unkempt faces, while pagans dress brightly, bathe frequently and no doubt smell really good? Amenábar's camera assumes extreme low and high angles, setting heroes against starry skies before freely zooming back to assume a celestial POV. What's missing is a satisfying, plausible middle ground where heady ideas and metaphors coalesce into compelling drama. The music swells, characters glower and suffer in slow-mo, and Amenábar champions the life of the intellect by condescending to ours.
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