Review: The Case for Christ / Running time: 112 mins / Rating: PG Coarse language
My reticence towards films that champion fundamental Christianity in contemporary society is that they tend to be preachy and often err on the side of sentimentality and over simplification. I’m sure there are exceptions but I’ve yet to see any. The Case for Christ, thankfully, is not one of those films … at least not entirely.
Directed by Jon Gunn (My Date with Drew) with a screenplay written by Brian Bird (Captive) and based on the autobiography of the same name by Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ tells the story of its author’s journey from atheism to a faith based belief in Christ.
It’s 1980 and Lee Strobel, played by a very moustachioed Mike Vogel (Cloverfield, The Help), is an award winning investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune, and a devout atheist. After his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen) converts to Christianity (the fundamental type), Lee attempts to debunk her beliefs by undertaking an investigation into the crux of the religion — the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile their marriage teeters on the brink of breakdown.
I have read Strobel’s best-selling book and as someone who examined faith through a similar lens I found his investigation a fascinating one. However, here the detailed arguments in the source material have been somewhat glossed over by Bird to allow for its packing down into a two hour film. The unfortunate (but perhaps unavoidable) result leaves its meaty arguments vague at best. However, it does allow the film to explore Lee’s relationship with Leslie. Unfortunately, the depiction of Lee’s marriage as well as his investigation into Christianity presents two plot lines that feel disparate and neither appear fully realised. Furthermore, the film’s delivery is not without its fair share of mis-steps, cliches and awkward moments. Despite this, Vogel and Christensen do a convincing job of a married couple in torment, but its investigative concerns fall well short of contemporaries like Spotlight or Zodiac.
The Case for Christ does however prove a little more engrossing than most films of its denomination and raises some intriguing questions. One might posit that the more Strobel investigated the Christian world the more he succumbed to its rhetoric — a sort of Stockholm Syndrome for journalists. Or perhaps Strobel dug up some genuine truths. Thankfully, it focuses more on the story than the pulpit.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Is there a beating human heart in The Case for Christ?
– one Christian’s perspective.
My problem with The Case for Christ is a matter of style and substance. Its doesn’t escape the tell-tale Christian filmic style, and its substance is hampered by an over-simplification of complex issues which weakens its impact.
Let me unpack this a smidge more.
Style: When compared to its secular equivalents (Zodiac, Spotlight, and All the Presidents Men are a few that immediately come to mind but I’m sure there are plenty more), The Case for Christ appears forced. It comes across as mimicry rather than fresh. I can see it trying to shake off the “Christian” filmic style so it can appeal to an audience outside of the Church, but it doesn’t quite get there. It still suffers from the soft focus on women, the all inclusive framing, and other stylistic “ticks”. However, this is something that, while distracting, is not a game changer. Besides, many Christians (myself obviously excluded) will love its more conservative style … but it does make me wonder who they are trying to sell the film to.
Substance: It bites off way too much and as a result suffers from what I mentioned in my review – notably over simplification. It has to gloss over some considerably complex issues to fit into a two hour film. In this instance it would’ve been better served if the film was a ten part miniseries.
In summary, The Case for Christ seems to be confused about its target market and as a result gets neither right. Great films that champion fundamental Christianity in contemporary society … my search continues.
Do you think I’m way off the mark? See something in the film you want to get off your chest? Just want to chat about film? If so then feel free to leave a comment. All opinions, comments or discussion points are welcome.