When news about The Nativity Story (opening Dec. 1) first started circulating, the welcomest bit of information was that Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) would play the Virgin Mary. What a stroke of casting genius, I thought. The winsome Castle-Hughes had the right combination of age, appearance, and camera-friendly charisma.

But what is most memorable about The Nativity Story is not its portrayal of Mary (though Castle-Hughes plays her part admirably). The movie's real achievement is its narrative exposition of what Matthew meant when he wrote that Joseph was a "just man" (KJV). My Greek lexicon singles out Matthew 1:19 to suggest that here "good" or "honest" would be preferred translations. In any case, he was a man of virtue.

Mike Rich's (Radio, The Rookie, Finding Forrester) script imagines for us how Joseph might have put his virtue into practice.

Played by Oscar Isaac—a 2005 graduate of the Juilliard School and a hot young actor in both film and theater—Joseph is self-sacrificing. One telling invention of the screenplay occurs when Mary's father Joaquim cannot pay his full tax, and the Roman enforcers take his donkey as partial payment. (This is a tragedy because Joaquim needs the donkey to make a living.) The generous Joseph buys Joaquim's donkey back from a Roman who is going to kill it. (A donkey is no use to a warrior.) Joseph gives the donkey to Mary to return to her father.

Castle-Hughes's Mary is ambivalent, confused. She has nothing against Joseph, but she is hardly excited about the idea of spending her life with the man her parents have decided she will marry. She and her friends have been playfully flirting with another boy, but Joseph is the one her father has chosen for her. Now, in rescuing the ...

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Directed By
Catherine Hardwicke
Run Time
1 hour 41 minutes
Keisha Castle-Hughes, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Oscar Isaac
Theatre Release
December 01, 2006
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