Friday, 22 December 2017

The Case For Christ (2017) - Movie Review
The plot: Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) is an acclaimed investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune. However, he soon turns his investigative efforts towards a more personal agenda, when he discovers that his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen) has become a Christian. He sets out to find evidence that Jesus didn’t exist, interviewing experts all over the country, but the answers he finds may not be the ones he was looking for.

No point in going over the acting, since everyone here is about as bland as each other, so let’s instead go right for the jugular and talk about the characters that they are portraying. Well, supposedly characters at least; outside of our lead, everyone else here is just a talking head that exists solely to present more ‘evidence’ towards the titular case. The only real exception is Leslie, and even then she’s only here to be both the impetus for the plot and the example of a ‘good Christian’. I’d buy it more if our main character wasn’t characterised like pretty much any other PureFlix release’s depiction of atheism. Beyond the simple fact that this is a guy so petty that he’s willing to go all over the United States to gather evidence to disprove Jesus just to spite his wife, he continues the PureFlix trend of being either unable or unwilling to show empathetic non-Christians. Hell, I’m willing to bet that the very idea of there being a person without faith who is a good person would blow their minds if it was brought up to them directly.

Okay, dialling back on the snark just for a second, there is something commendable to be said for this film’s approach to potential audience conversion. Rather than sticking solely to the standard of making out everyone who isn’t Christian to be a complete bastard, it also tries to stick to historical evidence and fact to make its case. However, it ends up sticking so closely to facticity that it fails to engage through the imparting of that information. We’re bombarded with graphs and studies and documents that are meant to prove that Jesus was real, none of which is presented in a way that allows the information to stick in the audience’s minds.
This film is based on a book written by the real-life Lee Strobel and it certainly feels that way, coming across more like a legal checklist than it does an actual narrative. Ignoring how proving the existence of Jesus is kind of moot, considering that that fact is one of the few things theist and non-theist scholars can agree on, the film doesn’t even allow enough time for the titbits to breathe in the script. It’s sensory overload, which for a film meant to impart a message is not going to yield positive results.

Then again, I doubt that this film would serve all that well as proof positive for faith in the first place, and the reason why is in that very assertion. Faith isn’t based on fact; no one is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists through hard evidence, same as no one can prove that God doesn’t exist through the same means. If faith was based strictly on historical evidence, the church of Latter Day Saints would have far more members than it does, given there is irrefutable evidence that founder Joseph Smith actually existed and proving such doesn’t involve so much navel-gazing rigmarole.
There’s also the unfortunate truth that the idea of proving something like religious belief through ‘fact’? Dig deep enough and you’ll find statements to back up any assumption, regardless of factual accuracy. Give me thirty minutes with Google and I could likely find a blog post about how PureFlix is actually a front for drug trafficking. Hell, I could even start that rumour myself, and once it gets repeated enough, it would be taken at face value as fact. Neither of these scenarios make that initial assumption true because, much like with the film, repetition of ideas doesn’t equal factual reality.

Let’s back to the whole atheist side of things because, while it’s definitely muted compared to other works released by PureFlix, this still carries a lot of the underhanded hatefulness I’ve come to expect from them. We have the strawman atheist who belittles those who have faith, because the filmmakers have only ever seen militant Youtubers and consider that to be the standard for atheism, but we also have a certain scene that, while over an hour into the film, really got under my skin. One of the many interviewees Strobel goes after is a psychologist, played here by Faye “Let’s make The Bye Bye Man look like a better decision by comparison” Dunaway. During their talk, she rattles off a list of prominent atheists, most of which Strobel in the film admits to being his personal heroes. She then proceeds to explain that all of those names mentioned had fathers who either died when they were young, abandoned them or otherwise physically or psychologically abused them. So, “atheism is a direct result of daddy issues” is what the film is trying to impart here.
Or there’s how the Quran gets brought up, only to be discarded because it’s an old source that can’t be verified… in a film where all of the evidence come from old sources. Considering these groups, among others, are likely the ones this film seeks to convert, I’m willing to bet that they wouldn’t appreciate being condescended to like this. Nor do I, especially for a film that can’t even get its facts straight.

All in all, I was honestly expecting something a little better than the PureFlix standard; even in a year full of left-turns, there are some things that will never change. The acting is bland to the point of being wholly unremarkable, the story progression is non-existent, the dialogue frequently dips into areas of unpleasantness that exist solely to make a partisan point, and the main intent of crushing the audience under the weight of all the ‘evidence’ means that you’ll barely remember any of it by film’s end. And as a bonus touch, we have a subplot about a police informant accidentally being taken to jail, and nearly killed, because Strobel messed up in the investigation. An investigation that he barely focused on because he was too busy trying to prove his wife wrong. And any other African-American characters in this film exist solely to serve the white leads, like the black nurse who first introduces Leslie to Christianity. You starting to get an idea of how messed up this all is?

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