It's pretty much what it says on the tin.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Technically speaking, this film is an immediate 5/5 on the Christmas spirit front. I mean, it tells the story of a character who literally embodies the term "Christmas spirit". And for that very reason, The Nativity Story scores full marks.
I would note though that the film is deathly serious. It manages to knock in at a PG, but there are absolutely no laughs to be had; just occasional polite nods. In this regard there's none of the traditional "Christmas spirit". But, since these story does in fact pre-date Christmas, I think we can let that slide.
Ho-ho-who's in it?
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ Everyone in this is a great actor insomuch as I didn't really recognise them as acting. The majority of the cast are unfamiliar, save perhaps Oscar Isaac, since I watched Inside Llewyn Davis just the other night. In The Nativity Story he's particularly notable for his fantastic facial expressions.
Also, fair shout-out to the three magi, who are totally engrossing and some fantastic banter. Probably against the director's intention, they seem more like "lads on tour" than "a group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus after his birth".1 I much prefer that interpretation though. Anyone know of a Christmas film which is built around that idea?
I very much enjoyed Ciarán Hinds as King Herod too, bringing equal parts menace and equal parts panto character to his role.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Oh, heck no.
The Nativity Story starts with a title crawl containing Jeremiah 23 5:6. Fun stuff. This is pretty immediately followed by shots of Roman soldiers running around Nazareth killing young boys in case they are the prophecy-filling messiah. Not quite Jingle All the Way, eh?
I suppose if you wanted to educate young 'uns on the real story behind Christmas, and the depravity surrounding it, this could be a fantastic family film. Probably not one to gather round the TV for on the 24th though.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Ooh err. There isn't really much of a soundtrack, though the whole thing ends with a fairly masked version of Silent Night so we can give a single star here!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I really enjoyed this film. It's very well produced and, although predictable, tells the story with a unusually serious tone. Imagine if your pre-school's nativity play was directed by David Fincher; that's kind of what you have here.