Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - God's Not Dead

Directed by: Harold Cronk

Produced by: Michael Scott
Russell Wolfe
Anna Zielinski

Screenplay by: Cary Solomon
Chuck Konzelman

Based onGod's Not Dead by Rice Broocks

Starring: Kevin Sorbo
Shane Harper
David A.R. White
Dean Cain
Trisha LaFache
Hadeel Sittu
Cory Oliver

Music by: Will Musser

Cinematography by: Brian Shanley

Editing by: Vance Null

Studio(s): Pure Flix Entertainment
Red Entertainment Group

Distributed by: Pure Flix Entertainment

Release date(s): March 21, 2014 (United States)
April 18, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 113 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $2 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $61, 824, 793

Hoy hoy hoy, everybody, my head is still pickled from working Sea Sessions. I'm not used to getting short seven hour shifts, and as such with my whole being not steadying itself towards the twelve hour shifts, it has reverted into full on lazy shite mode. I was sleeping to 2-3pm and the shifts were a gift. Now, with a couple of days off (one of which includes a trip to the cinema to see Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie), I shall be keeping relatively busy vis a vis the blog, so, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies (and a bit of the usual gib gab from yours truly), keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is God's Not Dead, a Christian drama film. We kind of know that going in to the thing, but there a couple of things I'd like to make clear about this before I get into it, the first being that although I was brought up a Catholic, I have not for many years practised religion and while for a few years I was a strong atheist, I now consider myself to be an agnostic. That lets you know my perspective on 'the big question' posed by this film: is God dead? The last thing I'd like to let you know is that although that is my perspective, I will refuse to let that cloud my judgement of the film's moral values or message, and that when I judge the film it will be on the basis of merits as a constructed artistic piece, objectivity where personal beliefs and opinions being the nature of the beast when it comes to art. God's Not Dead isn't getting much of a play in Northern Ireland, but for some reason it has ended up in The Strand (perhaps it caters to the heart of dogma in the East Belfast audience), and I thought it'd be something different to review. So, story follows Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), a Christian college student who enrols in a philosophy class, which is fraught with the tension from the get go due to the demands of Professor Jeffrey Radison (Kevin Sorbo), who insists the students sign a declarative statement that "God is dead." When Josh refuses, Radison has him debate the issue with him over the course of a number of classes, with God effectively put on trial, and this is the basis for a bunch of tales involving different characters, all of whom are linked in some shape or form to the central debate of "Is God dead?" Shall we dance?

Starting off with the good, I have to flag up that some of the acting performances are decent, in as much as they can make good with the material that they have to work with. Kevin Sorbo, the erstwhile Hercules from The Legendary Journeys show of the nineties, does his best to inflect the Professor with an arrogance that masks a deeply-embedded trauma from his past, and Dean Cain, the erstwhile Clark Kent from Lois & Clark show of the nineties is surprisingly effective in his short time onscreen as an obnoxious and incredibly self-centered businessman. Also, for all the film does in trying to ram the Newsboys group down our throat throughout the film (protagonist wears Newsboys t-shirt, protagonist's dorm room features prominent Newboys poster, everyone seems to be going to their upcoming gig), they're actually not a bad group to listen to. I was dreading this climactic concert, even more so the closer we got to it, and it's a well-overused trope to bring characters together in one space. The best use of it lately was in Paolo Sorrentino's This Must Be The Place, a film which I get more fond of the more I think about it, with a Talking Heads concert the basis for emphasising the extent of lead character's Cheyenne's mid-life crisis. God's Not Dead will never be looked upon in the same light as said film, but at least it have two qualities going for it in some of the performances and the Newsboys' music.

Now, getting down to it, while I have looked out objectively for all the possible things that this movie has done right, it does way more things wrong, and frankly God's Not Dead is an early strong contender for my bottom ten worst films of the year, because it is rubbish. As I've said right from the top, I am not a religious man, indeed I was almost militantly atheist at one point, however, over the years I have developed a respect for religion and other people's beliefs. That said, God's Not Dead is doing no one any favours in promoting the Christian faith and that is because it is quite simply a bad film. I would like to direct you to a quote from Michael Gerson, columnist for The Washington Post, perhaps best remembered for being George W. Bush's chief speechwriter: "The main problem with God's Not Dead is not its cosmology or ethics but its anthropology. It assumes that human beings are made out of cardboard... It is characterisation by caricature." I can't say it any better myself, and I think Gerson hits the nail right on the head as regards to central problem(s) with the picture. We have all these people, like the intrepid reporter whose life takes a turn once she is diagnosed with cancer, the Muslim student who removes the hijab covering her face when Father's not around and is a closet Christian, secretly listening to audiobooks of the Bible on her iPod, the quiet student from the People's Republic of China (COMMUNISTS!) whose father refuses to hear anything of his budding interest in Christianity. Not only does it indicate a sneaking suspicion regarding people of other creeds, but none of the characters in the film have no true convictions and are just lost sheep waiting to be led by their proverbial shepherd. Also, structurally the script is all over the place. There's way too many characters and the film seems undecided as to which story or stories are the true centre of the piece. The philosophy debate is the visible crux, after all it's the one on the poster, trailer, marketing and title, but it seems like all the other stories are devoted as much screen-time and they just come across as a mish-mash of scattershot bits and pieces thrown together. Furthermore, while I applaud some of the performances, the writing is so ghastly that it can't help but affect some of the other performances. Shane Harper is unbearably wooden in the lead part as Josh Wheaton. He could be a good young actor for all I know, but he is just portraying one of those two-dimensional protagonists who have unwavering conviction in their beliefs, even in the face of an admittedly stupid girlfriend breaking up with him. Nothing seems to move this kid, but maybe that's just because sandpaper has rounded off all the edges that his character could possibly have. Also, the reporter diagnosed with cancer, a liberal left-wing blogger with "Meat Is Murder" bumper stickers on her car, churns out the line "I have cancer" over and over again to everyone she encounters, as though that is the endgame to all arguments; "I have cancer," the sky is blue, the cow jumped over the moon, she even manages to bring it into multimodal terms, typing it on her laptop in emails to people, really, as someone who knows people who have had and have cancer, I find it disgusting that both an illness and those suffering from illness are distilled down into such narrow-minded, simple and patronising terms. Speaking of which vis a vis scattershot and what have you, God's Not Dead contains some of the worst editing I have seen in a film for some time. Editor Vance Null obviously lives in a different planet to the rest of us (with the greatest of respect to potential extra-terrestrial readers...), to me anyway, because I don't know anyone who speaks the way these characters do, because the way he has cut these conversations does not in any way resemble anything along the lines of general conversation. It's full of things like shots lasting up to five seconds longer after a pithy one-liner, just in case the audience deems it necessary to laugh or comprehend the weight of something 'important' being said, but then there are even sharp and unnecessary off-putting shots which last about a half-second showing a reaction from one person to another which are actually rather nauseating. It just made me consistently ask myself "who the hell talks like that?" All of this adds up to as to whose fault all of this is. I'm not in the habit of playing the blame game, but I that it's a double-header in this case: Harold Cronk, the director of the film, and behind all of this the production company responsible for this mess, Pure Flix Entertainment. Usually, the director is at fault for not controlling all of the potential issues that could arise in the process of making a film, and while I don't doubt that Cronk is complicit in this here, let's face it, this film was going to get made one way or another, whatever donkey Pure Flix could get to saddle up and carry this forward to it's eventual deliverance. In the end, the only thing this seems to add up to is a congratulatory shout-out from Willie Robertson (presumably because Phil is in too much trouble right now) and once the film fades to black, as the characters do at the Newsboys concert in the film, we are given a message to use the power of social media to text all our friends that "God's Not Dead" and "join the revolution." Yes, join the revolution, Christianity is under attack from the unbelievers, I think with 31.5% of the world's population (2.2 billion people, source courtesy of the demographic study The Global Religious Landscape) you're not doing too shabby. This encouragement to text reminds me of The Devil Inside entreating me to visit their website, and it just made me go, "really, it all comes down to this?"

Okay, I'll admit I went a slight bit out of the objectivity circle and started challenging the message of the film, but I think for the most part I did a good job of maintaining relative control of my senses. In the end, despite some decent performances and music, God's Not Dead is a messy mish-mash of bits and pieces thrown together, characterised by "characterisation by caricature," people who don't seem to know anything about people or make them resemble people at all. Not only that, it is also a badly made film, with scattershot editing that is full of the kind of things that would have made my university lecturers cringe as much as it did me (the essentials of basic editing are thrown out the window here), and a director who seems to have maximum plasticity to be bent in any shape or form, if not for the will of God, then at least Pure Flix. The film has made over $60 million off of it's $2 million budget, so it is by all means a surprise hit, but my hope would be that it just goes away from whence it came, because nothing this dull and poxy deserves to capture anyone's time and attention.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Getting ready (week four of the EventSec Magical Mystery Tour's first leg is about to commence tomorrow.)

No comments: