Yes, deep conversations, court room drama, and serious fact-checking predictably come into a film with the title The Case for Christ, which is based on Lee Strobel’s best-selling book… which is based on his personal life experiences.
Beginning in the 1970s during his work as a Chicago Tribune reporter, Strobel takes on the immense task of disproving a crucial event in the Christian faith – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Strobel’s wife, Leslie, plays a key role in this task, which also coincides with an important crime case Strobel is working on.
Directed by John Gunn (Do You Believe?), this film is all about Lee’s journey. A personal journey that had a profound beginning that changed his life as an atheist. A journey that would eventually be chronicled in his 1998 book The Case for Christ.
Since the film’s based on an existing narrative, then you might think the editor Vance Null (God’s Not Dead), screenwriter Brian Bird (who also co-produced), and other members of the filmmaking crew get a free pass. They don’t. They have to choose what pieces are included and for how long, etc. in this very successful narrative.
Mike Vogel (The Help, Cloverfield) pulls audiences into this journey as Lee with strong acting skills and an appealing persona that reminds me of Ant-Man star Paul Rudd. His rhythmic dialogue delivery matches well with Erika Christensen (Traffic, Parenthood TV series) as she takes her own journey as Lee’s wife Leslie. Haley Rosenwasser has her feature film debut as Lee and Leslie’s young daughter Alison.
Scott Caldwell plays Alfie Davis, who, along with Renell Gibbs and Oscar® nominee Robert Forster, have vital roles that develop Lee’s character and progress the main plot in a natural, realistic way. The filmmakers reveal clues to Lee’s family background through dialogue as the audience witnessed the events from Lee and Leslie’s personal journeys as a married couple and as individuals that provide the insight and emotion from the dialogue, which the actors deliver very well. Lee attempts to shape some semblance in their marriage with lines like “we moved on from how we were raised.”
Later Leslie adds how she felt “God was a million miles away” as basic prayer and worship evolves into deeply emotional debates about core ideologies and faith. Audiences can see characters quoting the Bible, but the filmmakers let the cast’s words be enough to hear. No quotes or text citing the exact chapter and verse, which can prompt audiences to find it themselves, though one key instance is worth mentioning – Ezekiel 36:26. The filmmakers don’t even add any time stamp text or other informational subtitles to help audiences develop their own thoughts throughout the 122-minute plot without distractions.
Lee’s professional life includes several colleagues. Veteran actor Frankie Faison plays Lee’s editor Joe Dubois and Jordan Cox plays Lee’s research assistant Bill Hybels. Kenny, played by Mike Pniewski (TV’s Madam Secretary, Blue Bloods, and The Good Wife) is the only one of Lee’s colleagues who answers Lee’s demanding questions.
The posting at the top of the Chicago Tribune’s bulletin board speaks to Lee’s relentless pursuit for answers the best – “If Your Mother Tells You She Loves You, Check it Out.” Lee’s professional work blends with his personal struggles and actions. He begins with a basic heuristic approach – discoveries of textual criticism that eventually leads him to Jesus’ crucifixion and reflection on the shroud of Turin and the physical pain he endured. Evidence, logic, objectivity, and the ultimate question – how can we know? All these important elements factor into the resolution and the filmmakers only scratch the surface of some debates. For example, dating special artifacts is mentioned, but nothing that expands into carbon-14 dating methods and techniques. Audiences can connect with Lee’s journey through the various research montages, but get the best insight when Lee discusses his view with Ray, played by Brett Rice, who has become a father figure to him.
The cavalcade of experts include screen legend Faye Dunaway as Dr. Roberta Waters and Tom Nowicki (The Blind Side) as Dr. Alexander Metherell. Their performances are short, but very memorable as they also develop Lee’s character and progress the main plot. These experts challenge several viewpoints as they eventually settle on sound conclusions that give Lee a lot to consider.
The film’s production company, Pure Flix, has certainly been listening to criticism to their films focused on Christian faith including being out of touch with modern society, the terrible acting, and a too “preachy”/”in-your-face” approach.
Will Musser provides the subtle musical score that gives the film a nice, even emotional tone while Faith Life Church, Soulfire Revolution, JT Murrell, Cindy Cruse Ratcliff, NewSpring Worship, The Church Vessel, Heriam and other artists contribute songs. Kansas’ famous “Wayward Sun” is prominently featured during a montage in this quality period piece along with set placements of Freakies cereal and Schlitz beer. Audiences can also catch books of the time such as Why I’m Not a Christian among Lee’s research materials.
Strong acting, a structured narrative, and the meaningful journey any audience can connect with results in a recommendation. Rated PG for thematic elements including medical descriptions of crucifixion and incidental smoking. Other situations of drunkenness are predictable in their appearance, but can cause anxiety due to the potential for menace and violence.