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'Paul, The Apostle' arrives in time for Easter

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For those who might remember the summer action movie extravaganza “White House Down” from 2013, it was an extreme example of the speed at which a film can get made.

The script was written in three weeks. It sold in March 2012 for more $3 million. A director was hired in April. The movie was in production by July 2012 and it was released less than one year later.

That process is warp speed on steroids. It’s equivalent of a character in Star Wars jumping to light speed and instantly ending up in another galaxy. It is also the opposite of how 99 percent of movies get made.

The vast majority of films spend years being written and rewritten and planned and produced and edited and marketed. This week’s Easter movie “Paul, Apostle of Christ” falls into that category. It received a rare Wednesday release date to capitalize on the holiday weekend and is playing at Westwood Cinema today.

Writer-director Andrew Hyatt spent years researching the life of Paul and writing the script before a single frame of film was shot.

“Paul had always been on my mind as a fascinating figure,” Hyatt said. “Somebody who goes from basically the greatest persecutor of early Christians into the greatest evangelizer in all of church history.”

The film tells the story of final days of Paul’s life as he is locked in the infamous Mamertine Prison by the Roman emperor Nero. Nero was the most aggressive of the early persecutors of Christians and the historic fire that tore through Rome in 64 A.D. gave him the perfect cover story to wage war on the church.

Thus, Paul finds himself in a cell awaiting execution. His friend Luke undertakes a risky journey to help him in his last days. Neither man is sure what that help will be, but it eventually becomes clear: Luke will write another book, one that details the beginnings of “The Way” and the birth of what will be known as the church.

Arriving at this plot was perhaps the biggest hurdle of the entire film. Hyatt and producer T.J. Berden realized early in the process why there had never been a movie about the life of Paul — his life was so extraordinary that it wouldn’t be believed by modern audiences.

“It almost doesn’t seem possible that a person could live it all; it’s like he lived 100 lives in one life,” Berden said. “So, to be able to find the narrative through-line that would connect it all was a challenge.”

Veteran English actor James Faulkner plays Paul. Viewers with keen eyes might recognize him through his heavy beard as the man who played Randyll Tarly on the HBO show “Games of Thrones.”

Jim Caviezel, who famously played Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” takes on the role of Luke.

“This script came along, and I looked at it and said, ‘OK, there’s something great here,’” Caviezel said. “Then my wife read it, and said, ‘You should do this.’”

The film balances the brutality of the era with accessibility for all audiences. The producers couldn’t ignore the violence of the time but they wanted children to be able to watch the movie as well.

“We wanted to make a film that parents can bring their fifth-,sixth-graders to, so that they can show them something of Paul’s story,” Hyatt said. “Yet, we don’t want to create such a clean environment that it loses the power of what these individuals actually lived through.”

The story is more about the strength of humanity than its dark side and the cast and crew hope audiences of all faiths, or no faith at all, can enjoy it.

“The film is universal. For people of faith, it’s an important affirmation and an interesting representation of the last days of Paul,” Faulkner said. “For those who are not Christian in their outlook, it might remind them of the finer emotions of the human spirit, and some people might, as a result, be compelled to live a better life.”

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