Directed by Jon Gunn
Screenplay by Brian Bird
Based on The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel
Starring Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, L. Scott Caldwell, Robert Forster, and Faye Dunaway
Film Review by Euan Franklin
Respected journalist Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) has dinner at a restaurant with his wife, Leslie (Erika Christensen), and his daughter. Preparing for pudding, the daughter chokes on a jawbreaker and a nearby nurse, Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell), rushes over to save the little girl’s life. When Leslie goes to thank her, Alfie claims it was the work of Jesus and that she was guided to the restaurant. This sets Leslie on a course into the Christian faith, which Lee, as a militant atheist, despises. Believing he’s losing his family to Christianity, he embarks on a long research project to disprove the existence of Jesus as well as the existence of miracles, namely the Resurrection. This proves more difficult than Lee had anticipated.
I love journalism in movies. There’s an intellectual underdog element to the genre that makes movies like Spotlight and All the President’s Men thrilling to watch – despite being set among dull desks and writing pads. There’s usually a pursuit to expose an injustice, which the authorities haven’t stumbled across, but no great injustice befalls Lee Strobel in his quest to disprove Christ – he’s just a bitter atheist with daddy issues. Strobel fights a pointless fight, ripping away the type of engagement associated with journalism movies. This is made worse by his narrow choice of interviewees – most of which being evangelical Christians. Screenwriter Brian Bird tries to shoehorn a criminal court-case involving a cop shooting, which Strobel covers for the Chicago Tribune, inserting some pace to the story – but it doesn’t fit with Lee’s beef with Jesus. It’s only a desperate attempt to keep the film moving.
The depiction of Lee Strobel is the hard-line Christian’s dream of an atheist: obnoxious, stubborn, and drunk – until, of course, he finds God. Any atheist position is considered inferior than any Christian one. The Christian arguments presented in the movie are dependent on out-dated Pascalian logic: the what if it’s true scenario, which Strobel, bizarrely, has no counter-argument for. Director Jon Gunn smears these bible-heavy scenes with a stinking, sentimental cheese that’d make even devoted Christians feel embarrassed. By the time the film ends, I can’t decide whether Strobel is a stupid atheist or a terrible reporter.
Surprisingly, the performances from Vogel and Christensen are strong and they thrive during scenes with intense, emotional debate – even if they are a bit melodramatic. Robert Forster and Faye Dunaway pop up too briefly to be considered cameos, and deliver uncharismatic performances that waste their inimitable talents. It’s a wonder why these Hollywood heroes turned up at all.
Despite its almighty flaws, the premise of The Case for Christ is not as ridiculous as other Christian propaganda movies like God’s Not Dead. Some of Strobel’s journalistic adventures feel out of the place, but they succeed in maintaining a good pace. You also become better educated about certain areas in religious history and the Christian side of the argument, despite little representation from the other side.
But I won’t beat around the burning bush: I hated this movie. It exudes that deceptively revolting charm you get on the faces of Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come knocking on your door. The Case for Christ is less concerned with facts and obsessed with conversion, not only of Strobel, but of you as well. It’s a propaganda movie pretending to be a genuine character biopic. And no miracle can save it.