MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Jon Gunn. Starring Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen. Rated PG.
Following all of the hoopla surrounding The Shack, I was a bit surprised that The Case for Christ has been virtually ignored by the media. I will confess that this movie is a strange hybrid of biopic and Christian apologetic and – while family friendly in terms of presentation – not likely to appeal to children or middle school kids.
Lee Strobel’s 1998 book The Case for Christ is well-regarded by many evangelicals as a go-to reference on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The film is set in 1980 when Strobel was an investigative reporter at The Chicago Tribune and an avowed atheist. His wife Leslie was an agnostic but, through the encouragement of new Christian friends, soon accepted Christ at the Willow Creek Community Church (which was meeting in a movie theater prior to its future development as a megachurch in Barrington, Illinois). The Strobel marriage soon encountered real stress as Leslie’s faith became more important to her. Lee decided to begin an investigation into the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, figuring that if he could come up with legitimate reasons to disprove this event, the Christian faith would tumble down like the walls of Jericho.
The book is 300 pages of good reporting with about ten pages of marginalia describing Strobel’s family life and eventual conversion. The sections of the film that focus on some of the highlights of his investigation are interesting and insightful, but suffer from oversimplification. The movie flips the script and spends most of its time focusing on his faith story, including the standard scenes of a loving, patient wife praying for Christ to break through and speak to her husband.
Because the film desires to show us a dramatic change in Strobel before-and-after Jesus, he is presented as something of a jerk for the first half of the film, depicted as an egocentric lout who can’t stop handing out copies of his first book to everyone in the newsroom. His investigation into a police shooting (shared in the book) is made to appear sloppier and more judgmental than it actually was. His drinking of Schlitz beer is epic, including one scene in which he and his interview subject kick back a six pack apiece. I guess it really is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one!
The movie suffers from poor editing and subpar cinematography, but it is loaded with good performances from a recognizable cast including Frankie Faison, Robert Forster, L. Scott Caldwell, and Faye Dunaway.
Once again, I am stumped about who the intended audience for this film might be. I cannot imagine that most atheists would flock to a flick entitled The Case for Christ. In a recent online interview at Patheos.com, Strobel said: “I think the evidence can get us to the point of being in intellectual agreement, but ultimately, coming to faith and being as the Bible refers to it ‘born again’ requires receiving this gift of grace.”
The Case for Christ attempts to hit it out of the park but (like so many other faith-based films) ends up with a solid drive to the fans in the bleachers. Try to catch it before it leaves town.
Three halos: A respectable faith-based biopic developed from a popular book of Christian apologetics.
One pitchfork: For a narrative and graphic description of how Jesus was crucified; a lot of beer drinking
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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