I wanted to like “The Case for Christ,” but it succumbed to what most movies do.
It tried too hard to tell its story and made a fatal flaw in storytelling that hurts its intent.
The film is based on the true story of Lee Strobel (played by Mike Vogel) – who is now a pastor, but in another life was a journalist – becoming a Christian.
It begins with Lee and his wife, Leslie (Erika Christensen), going to a restaurant with their young daughter. The daughter chokes on a piece of gum and is rescued by Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell).
Aflie declares that she felt led of God to come to that restaurant that night. This causes Leslie to become interested in what brought Alfie there.
Lee and Leslie are atheists, but Leslie begins going to church and has a conversion experience.
This sets Lee on the trail, using his journalistic skills to convince his wife that the resurrection of Jesus did not happen.
He does lots of research on the subject and is doggedly determined to prove that Jesus never came back from the dead.
This would all be fine, but there is a subplot in the film that caught my attention.
Warning: Spoilers follow!
Lee is given a story lead about a police officer who was shot by a “gang banger.” The officer (Judd Lormand) tells Lee he wants to see the assailant put away for good.
He begins investigating and discovers that the assailant, James Dixon (Renell Gibbs), has a long list of arrests, including a violent crime.
There is a gun found in the bushes near where the shooting took place. A bullet was fired from the gun, and the gun belonged to Dixon.
Lee writes the story. Dixon pleads guilty and is sent to prison.
In prison, Dixon is brutally beaten by gang members because Lee wrote that Dixon was a gang informant. The guards in the prison look away because Dixon shot a police officer.
Lee then discovers something. The pen that the officer carried was a pen gun, which held a spent casing that was the same caliber of bullet Dixon was accused of using on the officer.
Having a pen gun was illegal for anyone to carry, especially the officer.
At the hospital, Lee confesses his wrong to Dixon – an innocent man who was convicted, sent to prison and beaten unmercifully.
That is my problem with this movie. The people that this movie intends to reach are people who are not Christian. Strobel’s journey to faith is a powerful testimony, but this movie’s story falls short here.
A nonbeliever is going to see this movie and question a god who is supposedly working to bring Lee to faith by allowing an innocent man to be beaten in the quest of faith of another man.
Add to that, the innocent man is African-American, which might raise a question for viewers: “So the man of color is made to suffer for the conversion of the white man?”
This is the problem with movies. The writers and directors take the story and add dramatic elements to “amp up” the story. But in doing that, you lose out on what you intend to do with the story.
Lee Strobel, in his book of the same name, tells the story of a man who was wrongfully accused of shooting a police officer. But in the book the man is not beaten in prison.
As a matter of fact, the man pleads guilty because of a plea bargain that would have him released a few days after the trial.
It is of the utmost importance that when one is making a movie that will tell of how Christ changes a person’s life that the life of an innocent person is not harmed.
The story conversion of the one who finds Christ should not get sidetracked by the story of the person whose life is harmed for no other reason than God is not seemingly looking out for that man.
That is a bad testimony about the nature of God.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements including medical descriptions of crucifixion, and incidental smoking.
Director: Jon Gunn
Writer: Brian Bird, based on the book by Lee Strobel.
Cast: Mike Vogel (Lee Strobel), Erika Christensen (Leslie Strobel), Frankie Faison (Joe Dubois), L. Scott Caldwell (Alfie Davis), Renell Gibbs (James Dixon), Faye Dunaway (Dr. Roberta Waters).
The movie’s website is here.