film reel image

film reel image

Friday, March 21, 2014

God's Not Dead 2014 * * * Stars

God's Not DeadDirector: Harold Cronk
Year: 2014
Rated PG
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Shane Harper, Kevin Sorbo, Jim Gleason, Dean Cain

As a film that is overly religious, Altmanesque (minus the overlapping dialogue), and structured almost similar to 2005's Crash (which was I believe was inspired by Robert Altman himself), God's Not Dead is a March release that presents the debate of Christianity vs. agnosticism. In other words, the major conflict here involves a college student trying to convince a philosophy class that God is real whereas the professor of said class believes that God well, does not exist. As things progress, other characters eventually filter in, their lives intersect each other ever so slightly, and events finally conclude with a chance meeting at a concert involving a popular Christian rock band.

Now if you haven't taken in a viewing, know this: God's Not Dead is controversial, will allow for debate, and despite its PG rating, might sensitize an audience with its subject matter (doesn't matter if you're 10 years old or 80 years old). Whether or not that's a good or bad thing, I still found the film to be very well done, well paced, and well acted (especially by the leads being Kevin Sorbo and Shane Harper). It hasn't however, gotten a very wide release and at times, resembles a TV movie or something you would show as educational fodder in church classrooms. But it's as intelligent and thought provoking as anything to come out so far in 2014. And the fact that it wasn't another shoot em' up, another cartoon, or another lowbrow comedy was very refreshing to me.

Filmed entirely in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and featuring a cameo involving members of TVs smash hit, Duck Dynasty, God's Not Dead focuses on law student Josh Wheaton (played impressively by Shane Harper). He's a devout Christian, a loyal boyfriend, and overly smart (yet at times, timid). When he's warned about taking a philosophy class taught by a stern, set in his ways professor named Radisson (played with a searing glare by Kevin Sorbo), Wheaton decides to go against the grain and take this agnostic teacher to task (using at times, a power point presentation). He challenges Professor Radisson to a debate on whether or not God is real. This all happens because Josh won't sign a note saying that he denounces God's existence so that he can continue to take said class like everyone else.

As a highlight, there are three to four key scenes between these two actors that are very powerful. Added to that, the secondary characters mentioned earlier, also contribute to the story as well. They are all connected through 1-3 degrees of separation by the protagonist (Wheaton) and the antagonist (Radisson). One of them is a writer who finds out that she has cancer thereby trying to find solitude with God. Another character belongs to an old fashioned family who alienates her because of her beliefs. Finally, there is a nasty businessman played by veteran Dean Cain (Mark). He has a perfect life yet admits that he's a bad person and wonders why he hasn't been taken from the world yet (his mother is dying of dementia and is as good as any human being who has ever lived).

In conclusion, God's Not Dead comes off as a little preachy. It does at times, project itself as a public service announcement or an infomercial posing as a movie. However, just when you're not expecting it, the film sneaks up on you and packs an emotional wallop. A couple of the character portrayals are very heartbreaking and this is the glue that holds things together. The script, which has the collaboration of five writers, walks a tight wire between cleverness and textbook reading material. It's okay though because the actors pull you through, the story lines thread naturally, and the aspect of epiphany fully arises. God's Not Dead is no masterpiece but it's worth a solid recommendation. It's "not" playing at a whole lot of theaters right now so if you are in its cinematic vicinity, you should give it a serious look-see.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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