Confession time: I’ve long suffered from a nagging case of TCMS — Trauma from Christian Movies Syndrome.
Shocking, but true …
Initially I might’ve been exposed to the virus more than three decades ago, upon viewing one of the famous (infamous?) Thief in the Night flicks; an “end-times” celluloid franchise which had been popular with church groups throughout the 1970s. My recollection is that as that screening closed, the crowd around me cheered, while I was contrarily stirred with a fidgety, that-was-rather-awful vibe. Not wanting to be insensitive, however, (or sacrilegious — this was a “Christian” film, after all) I don’t think I piped up with my unflattering, film-critic opinion.
Since that far-removed cinematic experience, I’ve observed any number of nobly motivated Evangelical organizations taking their shots at Gospel-promoting, inspirational movie-making; all to varying degrees of success or failure. Quality-wise? These efforts have overwhelmingly ranged from hideous to tapwater unimpressive; occasionally, just barely adequate. Many a time, as my Jesus-loving brethren have ooohed-and-ahhed over the latest, minimally acceptable, big-screen “Christian” exercise, inwardly I’ve winced, embarrassed at what seemed to be the church’s low aesthetic standards. Indeed, these outings have reliably supplied a praiseworthy “message”. The truth of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, extending salvation to all willing to receive it? You flatly can’t beat that. But the cinematic packaging? Usually: tacky, second rate, corny, distractingly amateurish.
Once more, the good folks behind so many of these Jesus-exalting works? Undeniably well-meaning — and big props to them for that. Moreover, somebody had to take the halting, baby-steps in this “religious” movie-making business. Concerning the aforementioned Thief/Night series, for instance, Wikipedia puts it concisely: “a pioneer in the genre of Christian film, bringing rock music and elements of horror films to a genre then dominated by family-friendly evangelism.” These early efforts have likely — prayerfully — paved the way for the outbreak of better product in the category; perhaps, even artistically superior pieces of work.
Speaking of which, I give you: The Case for Christ (CfC),
Its admittedly clunky title notwithstanding, this just-released, unapologetically evangelistic film also happens to be an engrossing, thoroughly entertaining and intellectually stimulating based-on-a-true-story drama.
First off, that professional actors are at work in Case is both directly transparent and delightfully effective. A couple of immediately recognizable, much celebrated stars make surprising appearances — the prolific Faye Dunaway and much-lauded character actor Robert Forrester. An assortment of familiar, second-tier thespians turn in fine contributions, as well. The performances are consistently persuasive, never telegraphing (as this kind of fare regularly has in the past): Hey, I’m an actor trying to propagandize you with a biblical message!
Mike Vogel, in the lead as real-life, award-winning journalist Lee Strobel, conveys a sympathetic portrait of a self-confessed atheist searching for the metaphysical facts while harassed by stubborn doubts, legitimate questions and his own ornery, emotional hang-ups.
Also top-lining is Erika Christensen, who affectingly showcases the conflict between a wife’s devotion to her new-found Savior and her commitment to an aggressively — occasionally antagonistically — skeptical spouse.
The Case for Christ‘s script is intelligent, thoughtful — not merely preachy. Its trio of intersecting sub-plots support one another and hold the attention. The players interact with one another like actual human beings; there’s very little of the trademark, stilted dialogue or labored chit-chat which, again, has been a regrettable commonplace of the Christian film brand, heretofore. And not every story-point wraps up cheerily (or cheesily!). I found one unexpected twist, in fact, to be particularly heart-wrenching.
CfC’s attention to production values is pleasingly evident, too: handsome cinematography! (No suggestion it was filmed in the church secretary’s basement using dad’s camcorder.)
Oh, yeah: along the way, Case supplies the audience member with a winsome presentation not only of the Gospel’s hope but, additionally, of the cognitively respectable foundations for approaching the New Testament as reliable history; not some superstition-saturated myth, but a persuasive record of actual, on-the-ground, space-time events.
If the ticket-buying, DVD-renting community can anticipate more films like The Case for Christ within the “Christian apologetic”/”Christian biography”/”Christian Entertainment” market, there’s reason for “people of faith” to be greatly encouraged. Possibly, a “case” of another kind will soon be able to be built: that films produced by enthusiastic followers of God’s Son don’t have to come off as bargain-basement dreck.
Perhaps a cure for sufferers of TCMS is in sight.
Go see The Case for Christ.
Image: By Source, Fair use; Modified from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52873592