I have a unique perspective in writing this review for the movie; Do You Believe? In full disclosure, the screenwriters, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman have become friends of mine. I met them about three years back while giving a talk at Family Theater in Hollywood, the old stomping grounds of the Rosary Priest, Father Patrick Peyton.
Later they took my wife and me to dinner after they read a screenplay of mine and expressed further interest in it. At the time, they were getting into the faith based arena after years of working with likes of Sylvester Stallone among others in more action themed movies. I was very impressed with their humility and their desire to want to become better Catholics. They did the all the right things, helping those in need and going to Mass and Confession as much as possible. Needless, to say that sort of humility is in very short supply in Hollywood. They had no big projects in the works and didn’t seem bothered by it. “We just trust in the Lord, He will supply our needs,” said Cary Solomon.
Their continued hard work, despite any faith based success may have culminated in what St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul, before their leap into faith based entertainment bared any fruit. That hunger and passion for others to see the truth is evident in their films. Then a couple of years ago they told me they were working on a film, God’s Not Dead, which came out of nowhere and was the biggest grossing independent film of 2014. They had already begun work on Do You Believe before the success of God’s Not Dead was even realized.
In Do You Believe, we have a cast of divergent characters from various ages, racial and socio-economic backgrounds facing various life changing predicaments. We are blessed to have a star studded cast, with likes of Academy Award winning actress Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite etc) and other well known stars such as Sean Astin (Rudy, Lord of the Rings etc.) and fan favorites like Cybil Shepherd, Lee Majors, Ted McGinley. In addition there are rising stars such as the rapper Shwayze, Senyou Amoaku, Madison Pettis, Valerie Dominquez and former NFL bad boy Brian Bosworth.
Ted McGinley plays an Evangelical pastor named (Matthew) who ministers to a diverse flock of in Chicago. Pastor Matthew has his world rocked when he is asked by an elderly African American street preacher (Delroy Lindo) Do You Believe in the Cross of Christ? Pastor Matthew then witnessed the elderly street preacher confront a group of street thugs who attempt to steal a van. They threaten to shoot the elderly street preacher while he tells them that Jesus died so they would live a better way. Pastor Mathew relates what he has seen to his flock. He goes on to say that they must truly live the Christian life. In proving their sincerity, Pastor Matthew and his wife take in a homeless young pregnant woman.
The flock begins to fearlessly live their Christian lives; some take the needy into their homes, while others see their jobs threatened for not watering down their Christian beliefs. All of their lives build up and cross in a dramatic crescendo late one dark and rainy night. The cast plays their part to a tee; the rapper Schwayze plays a reluctant street thug who turns from a life of crime and tries to persuade others who simply laugh and threaten him.
Lee Majors character (J.D) is a wise old sage trying to help his heartbroken wife played by Cybil Shepherd deal with the death of their grown daughter. Brian Bosworth may be the surprise of the film, playing a dying ex-con who takes in a homeless mother and daughter. The former college football and NFL bad boy may well be living out a life of redemption before our very lives.
Two of the more interesting roles are played by Sean Astin (Dr. Farell) and Andrea Logan White (Andrea.) Moviegoers, especially those who enjoy sports themed movies will remember Astin for his role in Rudy. The everyman’s hero for his years of being plowed into the ground daily on the Notre Dame football practice squad, only to be given a chance to suit up for a game and be carried off the field after an improbable tackle.
Astin (Dr. Farell) plays an ego maniacal doctor who gets perturbed every time he sees a patient show any signs of religious beliefs. His only solace is his power attorney, money and prestige obsessed girlfriend, Andrea (Andrea Logan White.) They both spend what little free time they have stroking their egos and belittling the hapless religious believers they are forced to endure.
In the past faith based movies have been criticized for low budgets, poor scripts and little known actors and actresses. Obviously not the case here, as we are treated to a screenplay with many twists and turns from a star studded cast. I knew that to be the case when a sequence that included a pro-life adoption undertow was noticeable. I could see tears in my wife’s eyes as the message hit close to home for us.
I would go so far as to say that with the money made by God’s Not Dead, movies like Do You Believe will lead this film genre to greater heights. Other faith based film companies besides Pure Flix will be able to raise the money necessary to make a top notch production. For those who are fortunate enough to see Do You Believe, they will be able to say they saw the film that that not only raised the bar, but set the standard for modern faith based films.
Ever since I was writing my first book, I made it a habit of following the Stephen King admonition about never asking for anyone’s advice or reading anything about the topic in which you are writing until you are finished. I spent the last few hours reading some reviews for Do You Believe. Here’s what I found. Glad to see this positive review from the Sacramento Bee, and this one from a Christian film critic. It seems both reviews were on the same page as mine.
Some Christians who have a more abstract theology said it was a bit preachy. I really didn’t see it this way, but I do realize that in the modern era some folks have devised a more esoteric Jesus, sort of a cross between Deepak Chopra and the young Grasshopper David Carradine’s character Kwai Chang Caine in the 1970s TV show Kung Fu.
In fact these folks love gray, whereas many traditional minded Christians have had enough shades of gray to last them a lifetime. Some of these same abstract Christians had high hopes for Pope Francis, but have cooled on him since he keeps mentioning that he is a loyal Son of the Church and warning believers about the snares of the devil, something many of them have a hard time believing.
We get lots of preaching from the militant secularist which we are supposed to applaud for thinking outside the box. Well, I was hoping some of the more militant secular press might be more even handed with this film. While the UK’s Guardian didn’t like the film, they at least gave Miro Sorvino some love, the same can’t be said for the comments section which is full of vitriol against anyone associated with religious faith. The reviewer for Variety basically says he has trouble with any film that has a traditional view of faith; needless to say he excoriates this one.
After reading some of these reviews, especially Variety’s, I remembered an e-mail I received some time ago after an article I had written. The writer identified him/herself as an Apathiest (someone who thinks God may exist, but just doesn’t care to believe) and said I was probably right but just wished all believers and God would just take the next train out of town. I sensed maybe this person was going through some sort of crisis but no, I received another e-mail to say he/she really didn’t care about love, truth, redemption etc.
The writer went on to say that the world probably reached perfection during the Roman Era, when even the poor could participate in orgies and watch blood sport at the local coliseum. What a sad way to look at life I thought. The Romans borrowed a lot of ideas from the Greeks, and particularly the hedonistic ways from the Epicureans. Even before Christians starting making hidden advances into the Roman culture because they cared for the poor and left out, including children who would have otherwise been aborted, Cincinnatus told the Romans there was a better way. He told all who would listen that their way of living was very empty; there had to be something more. I feel the same when I read these diatribe reviews.
For all of these folks who talk about diversity and free thinking, they are the most exclusive group going. For all intents and purposes, they are a bunch of rich white Europeans and North Americans thumbing their noses not only at their own continent’s people, but especially those of South America, Asia and Africa, where faith is publicly proclaimed far more than in Europe and North America.
Jesus had a way of both helping people and making others uncomfortable, which is why he preached both about redemption and talked more about hell than heaven. Whether the skeptics like it or not, God loves them too, even when they insult those trying to do his work. Do You Believe may have succeeded more than people will ever know, for if it made the faithful want to be more faithful and help those in need both spiritually and materially, while it made the haughty militant secularists uncomfortable. It may have succeeded far beyond what anyone could have imagined.
As mentioned above, in the past faith based movies have been criticized for low budgets, poor scripts and little knows actors and actresses. Obviously not the case here, as we are treated to a screenplay with many twists and turns from a star studded cast. Again for those who are fortunate enough to see Do You Believe, they will be able to say they saw the film that not only raised the bar, but set the standard for modern faith based films.