Saturday, April 22, 2017
Judging by Pure Flix’s The Case for Christ, Christian-made movies are really coming into their maturity. Thanks to the AMC Theater chain and its independent movie track, otherwise unavailable Christian-generated pictures outside the South or the West, where they tend to be made, are often scarce in our burned-over New England towns on Boston’s northern shore. But missing the film version of apologist Lee Strobel’s adventure in conversion would be missing a lot. As one of our church elders put it well when he saw the upcoming previews: “It looks like an action movie!” And it is indeed an action movie, as well as a satisfying and worthwhile film that leaves one feeling both well-entertained and, at the same time, well nourished.
A carefully written screenplay by Brian Bird and the subject of the movie, Lee Strobel, himself, and cutaway action sequencing directed by Jon Gunn grip the viewers, as the story centers on two simultaneous mysteries confronting a young, coiffured investigative reporter, replete with 1980s hairspray and an exploded, self-assured me-generation ego that happens to be backed up by a high intelligence and sense of commitment both sharp enough to miss the point amidst all his clever theorizing. Assigned to write on a cop-shooting, he is harassed at the same time by his wife’s relentless moving into a faith in Jesus Christ he neither welcomes nor understands. Deftly portraying the Strobels are seasoned actors Mike Vogel and Erika Christensen, who had previously worked together on the 2003 film version of Wuthering Heights. Their chemistry and conflict is riveting and the parallel mysteries that confront our reporter are each complex, both of them demanding the full attention of protagonist and viewer. We went in to a 6:30 p.m. showing and left at nearly 9:00 p.m., but I had no sense of the passage of time. I was shocked that it was so late – the story is totally engrossing and all the acting is so well done, from the young child actress to the veteran Faye Dunaway, which is something one cannot say about every movie one views. This suggests as well adept directing and excellent cinematography and production.
The title may put off secular viewers and that would be a shame, because the story is riveting and the crafting so well done. But the title choice is certainly part of the integrity and the skill of the filmmakers – to put everything on the table in full view. But, like every good mystery, things are rarely what they appear to be. Debunking Jesus’s claims and solving the shooting both turn out to be enigmas fathoms deep. My wife and I read a lot of mysteries and, as seminary professors, we have a good handle on the evidence for substantiating the claims of Jesus, but we were far from bored watching “Lee” fly and drive all over the place to check this evidence and slowly find himself overwhelmed. At the same time, neither of us were successful in figuring out exactly what the crime case he was investigating was really all about. Even when the evidence was staring at us, we still missed it. And interrelating these two conundrums is what brought the movie together so well, though this was never spelled out, but left to the viewers to connect them, as any fine film will do. As one character expressed the movie’s point: we don’t see the truth, because we don’t want to see it. That’s a bit harsh and not always true, but it certainly was dead-on in the context of this film and left hanging to be considered by every skeptical viewer.
Lee Strobel has been indefatigable constructing and disseminating his defenses of the good news of Jesus. This movie, in my estimation, is a worthy companion to his work. It conveys the excitement of the adventure of big city reporting in both its this-worldly and other-worldly dimensions, reminding us that the two are linked in their effect on people’s destiny both temporal and eternal. I’ll buy this movie when it’s available, because I’ll want to see it again and lend it to others. I think it’s that good.
(please look for Bill’s own mystery/suspense novel, Name in the Papers, which won the Golden Halo Award for Outstanding Contribution to Literature from the Southern California Motion Picture Council)