Well, an Israeli widow, Olivia Williams, uncovers a hidden tomb in Jerusalem, and there is some suggestion that it might be that of Christ. This causes a considerable stir in the Vatican because, after all, Christ's body shouldn't be there unless he was an ordinary man. So they send Father Antonio Banderas down there to investigate, telling him ahead of time, so that he doesn't misunderstand his mission, that "the body is not that of Christ."
Banderas and Williams form at first a kind of mismatched cop/buddy team, he instense and inhibited, she breezily outgoing and scientific. But they soon run into trouble that pulls them together in their goals. I admit I didn't understand all of the reasons why so many groups wanted to interfere with the investigation or to exploit the find for political purposes. The first trouble they run into is an orthodox Jewish sect whose members bombard them with rocks and steal an important artifact. Then there is the leader of a Palestinian group, the PLO, I mean the FLP, or rather the PDQ. He wants his henchmen to get their hands on the bones. I forget why but I'm sure the purpose is nefarious. You can tell because he's got a face on him like the assassin in Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much." And you can identify his thugs when you see them because they're all swarthier than everybody else. The head Israeli honcho in this business, Shrapnel, informs the Vatican that as soon as Jerusalem is recognized as the sole capital of a united country, the bones will be released. (I understood that.) This all leads to a final semi-violent confrontation between the PDQ leader and the priest, in which the latter is wounded and the former is blown to smithereens. Oh, that reminds me, there is some comic relief from a sloppy young Irish priest who is a computer hacker. The question of whose body it is, is resolved at the end, but nobody in the movie finds out about it, only the viewer. Father Banderas resigns his commission and decides to follow God in his own way. He writes a very nice letter to Williams, but the movie stops short of having them fall into each other's arms. Let's not disturb anybody by raising REAL problems. (Are we going to observe Shabbat? How are we going to raise the kids?)
The photography is okay, and it's an interesting exploration of modern Israel and the political and ethnic maelstrom that it is, while at the same time much less didactic than "Exodus," which might have been called "Zionism for Dummies." The acting is better than one might expect. Antonio Banderas has a sympatico appearance. He exudes sincerity in this part. And he's not a bad actor, the kind of ordinary man who engages us without being particularly glamorous, the way some European actors like Jean-Louis Trintignant or Jean Moreau do. Olivia Williams isn't quite as convincing but she is very sexy and appealing, and looks the part of a 30-ish practical-minded Israeli woman, worn but warm. She almost, but not quite, gives Banderas some chicken soup one night. The musical score sounds like it's from a stock library somewhere, from a file labeled "Suspense music." Shrapnel looks the part of the Israeli honcho too. He sounds uncannily like Paul Stewart.
This isn't a puzzle that I find particularly interesting, although I don't know why. Religious belief leads so regularly to violence and intrigue. But I don't really think that if a body were positively identified as Christ's it would change things very much. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that, if anything, it would strengthen our beliefs in some way. (Cf., "When Prophecy Fails.") The problem would at least be papered over somehow. I'm happy that I watched it, I suppose, if only because of Olivia Williams and Antonio Banderas, both of whom are worth watching, for somewhat different reasons, but in fact I did spend two hours following this complicated story and may just be reducing post-decision dissonance.