The Case for Christ (★★★, PG, 113 mins) might have the ring of a Da Vinci Code banalisation or of an anodyne, new-era American Evangelical film. Yet, while edging these barriers, it manages to create a religious film that doesn’t finagle us into believing.
Western unrest in the 1930s created a vogue for horror films, much like the one now. A development that is more of an advantage to Catholics is the increasing gradient towards religion in Hollywood – perhaps drawing from the same unrest. It’s seen Sony and Fox set up departments specifically for releasing faith-based films.
The year is 1980. Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) works as a star reporter on the Chicago Tribune. His wife, Leslie (Erika Christensen), is expecting their second child. When their young daughter chokes on a gumball in a local restaurant, a nurse, Alfie (L Scott Caldwell), is on hand to save her – a nurse who is also a member of Willow Creek Community Church, an Evangelical megachurch in Chicago. The atheist Strobels are astounded to hear that Alfie had originally planned to go to another restaurant that night, but “someone” had told her to attend theirs.
Leslie then starts to attend Willow Creek Church with Alfie, while Lee decides to try to disprove the story of Jesus’s Resurrection, in a committed hack’s way of “checking out” a story. The Tribune’s watchword, writ on their walls, is “Your mother says she loves you? Check it out”. (This mirrors my old Catholic Herald news editor Simon Caldwell’s poster dictum: “Simon Says: Go to the Primary Sources.”)
It’s tempting to infer something rather facile in Strobel’s endeavour (basically fact-checking the Gospels). Cue spoiler alert: Lee Strobel is in real life a journalist-turned-author-turned-pastor (he features in box-office hot-stuff God’s Not Dead 2), and this actually happened to him. Don’t let that put you off, though. The film is solidly paced and has its religious thrust. Relationships between family and work characters, and academic sections, are well balanced. The script, specifically the dialogue between Leslie and Lee, could be more sparkling. But all in all a good effort.
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