I love movies.
I’ve rated nearly 800 movies over at Flickchart.com and I can watch my favorite movies over and over again.
Right now, my top 5 films on Flickchart are:
As a Christian, I think films are a terrific medium in which to tell people about God & Jesus.
There’s only one problem.
Christians have been doing that and for the most part, doing it poorly.
Kyle Cooper said something at the Story Conference that is sure to stick with me.
“The credibility of our message comes into question when we do mediocre work.”
It is so true. The best example I can think of are the ‘Left Behind’ series of films. They’re awful. Absolutely awful. How bad was it? The author of the books, Tim LaHaye filed suit against the production company citing breach of contract because he said the film and sequels were so poorly made.
Turning a camera on and filming doesn’t work, even if you’re telling people about Jesus.
Several years later in 2006, two brothers from Sherwood Baptist Church, Alex Kendrick (actor and director) and his brother Stephen shot and released the movie, ‘Facing The Giants.’ It was an ambitious effort in which they tried to bridge the gap between movies that preach to the choir and films that reach those who don’t know Christ.
It didn’t work. ‘Facing The Giants’ was ok but it was largely a film that preaches to the choir. It was clunky and the acting was sub-par. Their second effort, ‘Fireproof’ was an improvement, but still suffered fromt the same problems with mediocre writing, dialogue and sub-par acting. I thought Kirk Cameron was adequate in his role, but Erin Bethea was painful to watch as Cameron’s suffering wife.
Yet, prior to seeing these films, friends would say to me those movies were, “Awesome!”
But they were not awesome.
‘Courageous’ is the latest effort. I cannot comment on the film as I have not yet seen it, but of course I see people saying the movie is “Awesome!”, “Phenomenal!” and “One of the best movies I have ever seen!” In looking at the reviews, they aren’t as kind. There are some positive reviews. The Hollywood Reporter writes:
Courageous reveals the duo’s [Kendrick brothers] growing expertise as filmmakers with its skillful blending of moving drama, subtle comedy and several impressive action sequences, including a well-staged foot chase and a harrowing shootout between the cops and bad guys.
In addition, even negative reviews have offered up some positive thoughts, but one common element I see amongst those negative reviews is Kendrick’s propensity to push aside the narrative in favor of preaching to the choir. And yes, if you’re an evangelical Christian and see this film, it may serve to reinforce some beliefs and spur you to live out your faith in a more meaningful way and that is great.
But what does that do for the lost?
What does it do for those on the cusp of stepping across that line of faith?
Christians often get defensive when something they like is criticized, particularly by secular critics. “Oh they just don’t get it!” Of course they don’t get it. They’re not part of that culture. The problem is, most non-Christians won’t get it either. I’m not knocking the Kendrick brothers and their efforts for the sake of doing so. I give them props for working to improve and you can see the the progression they are making. I would just like to see them expand beyond their comfort zone and work to make a film that can reach a wide audience but still get their message across.
Successful and critically acclaimed movies (for the most part) all have one common factor among them: A good story.
Redemption As A Story
Let’s step back for a moment and go back 28 years to a film many people reading this may not have seen. It’s called ‘Tender Mercies’ and stars Robert Duvall (Oscar winner for Best Actor) as Mac Sledge a has-been, alcoholic country singer. The movie opens with Mac waking up in a post-drunken stupor in a small road side motel in Texas.
Mac has a history. He’s a drunk. He’s divorced. He physically abused his ex-wife when drunk and has a teenage daughter he has not seen since she was a baby.
Over time he marries the woman (Tess Harper) who owns that motel where he awoke. Her husband was killed in Vietnam, so Mac works to be father figure to her boy, Sonny. He gives up drinking. He tries to connect with his daughter and ex-wife. But none of this comes in a “Saul on the road to Damascus” transformation. It’s a slow process with one that has major trials along the way.
It’s a realistic portrayal of redemption and an excellent story. I would show this movie before any of the Kendrick films to somebody that had questions about God, salvation and/or redemption.
Perseverance As A Story
What if a film like ‘Tender Mercies’ is not your thing. What if you want something more modern? How about the film, ‘The Book of Eli’? Now I know some are thinking, “Caruso, you’re nuts.” But stick with me.
The Book of Eli is a great movie. It tells a great story. Eli (Denzel Washington) has the only Bible known to be in existence in a post apocalyptic world. For reasons he doesn’t understand, he’s been told to go west with this Bible. Along the way, Eli encounters criminals he kills without mercy and has to fight his way past a charismatic, but dangerous leader (Gary Oldman) who is seeking out a Bible because he knows its power can be used to control people.
What does the film reveal about issues of faith?
Three things in particular:
- Perseverance – Eli doesn’t give up, though doing so would have been easier. We live in world where many people have to persevere through tough times and challenges.
- Power of prayer – Eli prays. And not because he “has” to but because he wants to.
- Obeying God – Eli doesn’t ask why. He doesn’t know why. But God asked him to do something and he obeyed.
Yes, the film features graphic violence. Then again, so did ‘The Passion of the Christ’ which to date is the highest grossing ‘R’ rated movie in the United States. It took in $370 million in the USA alone. It’s success was not merely because the movie was about Jesus. It was successful because the story of Jesus is compelling and Mel Gibson did a fantastic job putting the movie together.
This kind of film making is part of the reason I am pretty excited about ‘Four Stones’, a movie about the story of David from the Old Testament. This movie is scheduled to be released in October 2012. The story is simple, yet powerful:
Four Stones is the story of a young overlooked herdsman who becomes an unlikely hero when his quiet ancient village comes under the attack of a ruthless band of raiders, led by an unstoppable warlord. This original epic tale, drawn from the biblical story of David and Goliath, will be retold in a gritty, modern cinematic style that captures the hearts and minds of today’s audiences. It’s an ancient story for a new generation.
My friend, Ben Arment is the visionary behind this film. The overall project behind it, One Thousand Premieres is looking to fund a good portion of the film by asking people and churches to to sponsor a showing of the film. From as little as $99 (1 to 14 people) to $999 (200+ people), you’ll be able to view the film either via live stream or with a DVD. Here’s a video with Ben describing the project:
There is already buzz about the film and the project.
Ben informs us of the following:
- Two major film distribution companies have contacted me to explore the model.
- Several major publishers have inquired about the film’s novelization and other resources.
- On September 15, over 200 newspapers throughout the US carried a story about it.
- An influencer in California has offered up hundreds of acres of wilderness property where we can construct sets and shoot the film over several months next spring.
- Several notable Churches are getting ready to sign up for full Premieres and a number of smaller ones
It’s pretty exciting. Check out the website for more details.
So what do you think?
Have you seen any of the films I’ve talked about?
Do you agree? Disagree?
I’m really interested to see what the community thinks.