“As far as I am aware, your God has not yet proved himself to be more just or more merciful than his predecessors. Is it really just a matter of time before I accept your faith?”
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac
4th century A.D. Egypt under the Roman Empire. Violent religious upheaval in the streets of Alexandria spills over into the city’s famous Library. Trapped inside its walls the brilliant astronomer Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) and her disciples fight to save the wisdom of the Ancient World. Among them, the two men competing for her heart: the witty, privileged Orestes (Oscar Isaac) and Davus (Max Minghella) Hypatia’s young slave, who is torn between his secret love for her and the freedom he knows can be his if he chooses to join the unstoppable surge of the Christians.
Hats off to Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, for without her – to be entirely honest – Agora simply wouldn’t be worth sitting through. Thankfully her powerhouse performance carries the film, as without it there would be little to recommend. Whilst not a wholly bad film, there seems to have been some odd decisions made that conspire to undercut any potentially interesting developments.
Case in point one: the casting of Hypatia’s supposed love interests Orestes (Oscar Isaac) and Davus (Max Minghella) who both severely lack any real chemistry with Weisz (not that the script gives them a great deal to work with), meaning that that vast majority of scenes between the characters are an exercise in going through the motions. The “love interest” side plot is doomed from the outset and never threatens to be anything more than an after thought – until the final moments where they seem to remember that it was a thing they were doing.
For Hypatia, her true love in life is science, and the film’s portrayal of science and Hypatia’s struggles to breakthrough in her understanding of the movement of the Earth, are where it’s most comfortable – sadly the plot is so overstuffed with vague undefined characters that it lacks any sort of focus on its strengths, and therefore never really takes flight.
On the upside, it looks great, and kudos and points are deserved for the set and costume design. If you dig down to the core of the film there is a fascinating story to be told about science vs religion, and about a strong, groundbreaking historical female astronomer. You know there are problems though when instead of seeing a large, seemingly significant passage of time in which different religions waged war, the film opts for what is essentially a few cue cards telling us how dramatic it all was. It’s all just sadly a little bit dull.
An interesting story stifled by filler, uninteresting characters and inelegant editing and writing, saved somewhat by the excellent Weisz.
Rating (out of 5):