It might not be a thumbs-up from Roger Ebert, but Mel Gibson has snagged a key four-star review for his controversial film The Passion of the Christ.
According to published reports, none other than Pope John Paul II has given his blessing to Gibson's biblical epic detailing the last hours in the life of Jesus Christ.
According to Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, the ailing pontiff screened The Passion on DVD with his closest friend and secretary, Monsignor Staislaw Dziwisz, in his private residence 10 days ago.
The intermediary then reportedly passed along a five-word review from John Paul to one of the film's producers, Steve McEveety: "It shows how it was," the 83-year-old Pope was quoted as saying.
Although brief, the remark lends some heavyweight clout to the film, which chronicles the last 12 hours of Christ's life and the Crucifixion as relayed in the New Testament. The Passion had come under attack as anti-Semitic for allegedly reviving the discredited notion that Jews were responsible for Christ's death.
A papal spokesperson not available for comment Friday; other Vatican officials have refused to confirm or deny the Pontiff's assessment.
Officials with the Anti-Defamation League said they would respect the Pope's positive reaction to the movie.
"The Pope has a record and history of sensitivity to the Jewish community and has a clear moral voice and understanding when it comes to anti-Semitism," Abraham H. Foxman, U.S. director of the watchdog group, said in a statement issued Thursday.
The ADL has protested what it considered negative stereotypes of Jews and "obvious historical mistakes" after reviewing a leaked copy of an early draft of the script and viewing the film in August.
Gibson has since made some cuts, and the ADL admits it has not seen the most recent version.
"We hope that Mel Gibson has heard our concerns and those of Christian and Jewish scholars and religious leaders, who expressed unease about the earlier version...and its potential to fuel, rationalize and legitimize anti-Semitism," said Foxman.
The actor-director, whose own religious leanings have come under scrutiny, has repeatedly dismissed criticism that the film is intended to be anti-Semitic, saying it was meant "to inspire, not offend."
Gibson reportedly spent close to $30 million of his own money making The Passion, which stars Jim Caviezel as Jesus and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene. The film's dialogue is chiefly in Latin and Aramaic with English subtitles.
The Gibson-run Icon Productions has been hosting sneak-peek screenings of early versions of the film for various religious leaders and Hollywood players, many of whom have responded positively to the depiction.
However last month, the New York Post illegally obtained a bootleg copy of a rough cut of The Passion and screened it for its own roundtable of critics that included a rabbi, a priest, a college professor and one of its columnists, all of whom had mixed feelings on the subject.
Federal authorities subsequently launched an investigation into how the tabloid obtained the tape, which the Post eventually returned to the Oscar winner. No charges have been filed.
The Passion of the Christ (previously titled The Passion but changed because Miramax already has a film by that name in the works) is being distributed by New Market Films and is scheduled to hit theaters in time for Lent, on February 25.