God's Not Dead... but Christian Films are on Life Support
- Friday, March 21, 2014
Release Date: March 21, 2014
Run Time: 112 min.
Director: Harold Cronk
Cast: Willie & Korie Robertson, Kevin Sorbo, David A.R. White, Shane Harper, The Newsboys
As unfortunate as it may be to admit, "Christian movies" have something of a track record.
Often the purpose of the filmmaker is clear, if not bluntly stated: to win souls, bolster the faith of believers, or even simply to get the name of Jesus to a theater near you. All too often, however, these well-meaning Christian films are marked by substandard acting, careless plot-holes, and contrived situations. Christian audiences flock to see such films, forgiving shortcomings and encouraging friends and family to support the Christian film industry by going out to see it and talking it up on Facebook.
And yes, the end result of proclaiming the Gospel is a worthy one. After all, who knows what soul may be touched by the story presented? If even one person comes to seek Christ in a deeper way, many argue, the film has been worth it – no matter how poorly made or artistically subpar.
But this artist and critic has begun to wonder, is the end truly justifying the means?
I would love to say that PureFlix Entertainment’s God's Not Dead accomplishes its goals through strong storytelling, a clever script, and well-rounded, well-acted characters, but unfortunately that's not the case. Though this Christian-celebrity-cameo-filled affair tries to make a profound statement about bold faith, it falls prey to several predictable blunders.
The film begins harmlessly enough, with an opening montage that introduces several unconnected characters, the most prominent being a freshmen couple at a college campus preparing to begin their foray into the world of university academics. Kara (Cassidy Gifford) is excited about their future; she and Josh have been a couple for six years, and she seems to have the next 60 planned out too. Josh (an underwhelming, brooding Shane Harper) is more laid back, and is thrown a curve ball on his first day of Philosophy class. This kind, Newsboys-loving, Christian teen has landed in the classroom of a militant atheist professor, one who wastes no time in proclaiming to his class of freshmen, "God is dead."
In an attempt to bypass conventional philosophical debate over the existence of God, Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) passes out blank pieces of paper to his classroom and instructs them all to write "God is dead" and sign their names. Josh, obviously, falters under this directive, and explains to his professor that, as a Christian, he cannot sign such a statement. The aggressive, controlling Radisson insists that if Josh won't do it, he has three chances to prove God's existence to the classroom or risk a failing grade. Josh accepts the challenge, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, and the story sets off from there.
The earnest young Christian standing up for his faith is a plot Christian audiences will relate to. After all, we live in an age of plurality and political correctness where lawsuits abound and there’s a lot of negativity associated with Christianity. The film comes across as self-satisfied, however, in a way that would likely feel polarizing and incomplete to a non-believer. Regrettably, most moments of poignancy and nobility this film can claim are overshadowed by this simplicity and a few other major flaws.
One such example is that the film gives an underly-dynamic presentation of its characters. Every non-Christian character in the film is amoral, disrespectful, and vicious. One wonders: do the script writers view all non-Christians as being incapable of the barest common decency? Alternately, every Christian character somehow ends up at the same Newsboys concert at the end of the film. Is this because these filmmakers think all Christians go to the same Christian concerts in this manner, or is it simply a lazy way for writers to further the story for their own purposes? And why must every sad and sobering moment in movies take place in the rain?
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