TL;DR – This is a very well crafted film, it’s clear on its message, and a relatively good explanation of Apologetics, but it fails to understand who its audience is, and who the more compelling characters are.
Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars
So in today’s review, we will be looking at the quite interesting The Case For Christ, which as the title would suggest falls into the Christian film genre. Now, this is a genre of films that can be very polarising for some people, some praise every film regardless of whether they are good or not, and some do the very opposite. It is also a genre that can be so sickly sweet to the point of being nauseating, or just really vindictive. So The Case For Christ is a film with an agenda but it is also being very clear and open about what that agenda is. So given this is a genre with growing clout in America it’s a good time to look at the latest film to so how the movie is.
So to set the scene we open in 1980 with Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) a journalist for the Chicago Tribune and his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen) are out celebrating Lee’s new promotion at work when their daughter Alison (Haley Rosenwasser) begins choking on a piece of candy. Your daughter is dying in front of you and there is nothing you can do, it’s a parent’s worst nightmare, luckily Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell) a nurse from a local hospital was eating dinner at the same restaurant and managed to clear Alison’s airways saving her life. The kicker comes when Alfie tells the parents that her husband wanted to go to a different restaurant but something made her come to here, ‘it was God’s will’ she said. This sets a series of event in motion as Leslie starts to become involved in church whilst Lee goes about trying to prove that Christianity is a con. This creates the central conflict for the film, and it is an interesting one, and a debate many couples have found themselves in. What happens when the person you married heads off in a different direction from you in their lives and this is something that is not just confined to religion I mean what if your spouse started to barrack for the Cowboys. So you have an interesting setup, interesting characters, and central conflict to propel the action forward, and while that is a good set up, there are also some big issues that hold the film back.
So whenever reviewing a movie ‘based on true events’, especially when everyone in the film is still alive, there is always a slight awkwardness when trying to review it because you are talking about characters and how they represented which might not be an accurate representation of real living people. So in this review when I talk about Lee and Leslie Strobel I am talking about, or critiquing, the characters represented in the films, not the real people who the film based its narrative on.
One of the things that does work really well for A Case For Christ is that unlike so many other films in this genre the action and cinematography is really good. Generally in a lot of these films weather because they are made on the cheap, because they can, or because they are made by people with a lot of passion but not the best technique, they come of being really amateurish. But I was really impressed with the acting here with the whole cast, they give believable performances of what it would be like in that circumstance. The highlight for me was Erika Christensen as Leslie who has to deliver a wide range of emotions and depth throughout the film and she really manages to capture what it is like to have your family unravel around you. It was also good to see the attention to detail with getting the period details right, from those 70’s moustaches, to the cars, and clothes and hair, everything fits into that late 70’s early 80’s time period. All of this is supported by some good production value, the movie is well filmed and the editing is well constructed, bar some sluggishness in the middle, it moves at a good pace. Also while there are some issues with their content and how they deliver it which we will get to in a moment, The Case For Christ does do a good job of hitting the major points of Christian Apologetics. The film also uses some really great moments to cut across to anyone who could be watching to help them engage with the film, like that moment Lee tells his heavily pregnant wife that she is acting crazy because of her hormones, which got a universal response from the audience that I saw the film with.
Now this being said while there were a lot of surprisingly good things about The Case For Christ there were also some big structural flaws with the film that really limit the engagement the audience can have with it. Now it is clear that this film was endeavouring to be a film that Christian could take their non-Christian friends to see to explain to them why they believe what they believe. Now I have no issues with that because the film does not try to hide its motivations like so many other films in this genre, I mean it is there right in the title, so you know what you are getting into before you walk in. However, while it was clearly the intent to present itself to non-Christians, the film is actually not written that way, instead, the film is more written toward those who already believe. The movie is littered with little touchstones to modern evangelical Christianity much the same way they hid Captain America’s shield throughout the Marvel films. But more than that, the film actually does a poor job in explaining some of the core themes and languages it uses, expecting the viewer’s previous knowledge to fill in the gaps. So when an archaeologist turned priest said Jesus did everything ‘for love’ people who understand the theological underpinning of atoning sacrifice all get what he is talking about, whilst the rest of the audience is left confused wondering what in the world he is talking about. Now while this is one example, it happens over and over again throughout the film, and you could see the divide in the audience. So this means that the film actually fails in doing one of the core things it set out to do.
[Spoilers] Another big issue I had with the film is with the characters, for me the much more interesting and compelling character is Leslie, however, most of the film is focuses on Lee and his movie long tantrum. After the third time he had a drunken walk out I found myself caring very little about him and his arc, he is just not a sympathetic character, and he treats his wife terribly. Which is problematic because the whole end of the film is presented, from the style of music, to the story, to the pacing, around Lee’s eventual realisation that his wife is right, but instead of this being the emotional hook for the film I found myself not caring that the person we have watched for the last 95% of the film act like a complete asshat finally sees the light. In many respects, it just feels like they picked the wrong point of view character to focus on. Also, there is this subplot about race that is added into the film which on the one hand I should applaud because they added a story about a white cop setting up an innocent black man and letting societies preconceptions judge him, all in a film aimed at that white middle-class American market. However, it just feels forced in and drags the movie without saying much of importance because its only purpose in the film is to move Lee’s story forward. [End of Spoilers]
In the end, while it is generally a well-made film, if I was wanting to introduce my friend to faith I wouldn’t take them to see The Case For Christ, I would show them something like Hacksaw Ridge which does a much better job of explaining what faith is and how it impacts lives.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Jon Gunn
Screenplay by – Brian Bird
Based on – The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
Music by – Will Musser
Cinematography by – Brian Shanley
Edited by – Vance Null
Starring – Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Haley Rosenwasser, L. Scott Caldwell, Frankie Faison, Mike Pniewski, Robert Forster & Faye Dunaway
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: G; NZ: PG; UK: na; USA: PG