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The Case for Christ

Year: 2017
Production Co: Triple Horse Studios
Director: Jon Gunn
Writer: Brian Bird
Cast: Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, Robert Forster

One of the deeper topics I'm interested in is how religion and science can co-exist, and subconsciously I'm on a bit of a lifelong quest to reconcile the two. There's very little in popular culture or literature that addresses it, and nothing so far that's convinced me beyond doubt (and I'm nearly 50 as I write these words).

As such, I tend to latch onto any book, TV show or movie about the dichotomy, or which depicts a character similarly wrestling with it. The problem with movies about it – and the reason I had serious pause about watching this one – is that they're usually those godawful (excuse the pun) cheesy faith based movies.

You know the ones, made by production companies probably backed with the fortunes of filthy rich southern televangelist types, they usually bypass Hollywood altogether and preach straight to the pious. Ultimately all against abortion or gay rights or whatever, their conservative views of family and faith are so cloying and overcooked they're enough to gag on.

But despite everything else, they're usually simply bad filmmaking, very flat extended two-camera TV shows with no real artistic vision.

All of which I was afraid of when I pressed 'play'. The plot is the true story of journalist Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel), a progressive in every sense after rising through the ranks of his field to the Chicago Tribune where he became an award winning investigative writer, the scandal about the roadworthiness of the infamous Ford Pinto one of his many exposes.

Husband to a loving wife Leslie (Erika Christensen, who played Michael Douglas' daughter in Traffic but who I've never seen since) and father to a cute kid, Strobel is living the liberal dream until his wife, who's felt an emptiness in her life for years, admits to him she's been attending church.

It starts when their daughter begins to choke in a restaurant one night and a kindly woman dining nearby happens to be an ER nurse and saves the girl's life. To Lee, it's blind luck. To Leslie, it's divine intervention, and she seeks out and befriends the woman, accompanying her to her church and finding what she's been missing. When she admits to Lee she's found her faith again and wants him to join her he's horrified that she could fall victim to such indoctrination.

But Leslie insists, and when their diverging beliefs have caused a rift in their marriage, Lee decides to approach the factual basis for God, Christ and Christianity like he would any other claim – as a journalist.

He talks to Bible scholars, historians, a psychologist and a doctor about all the major points Christianty is based upon. He learns about how many historical records we have of the events of the New Testament, how widely corroborated witness accounts of Christ rising from the dead are, how people can or can't be brainwashed or hypnotised and even the medical evidence that's said to prove Christ died on the cross rather than just falling into a coma or something.

In doing so there's every chance the movie could have been episodic, just another set piece of Strobel talking to someone else in a lab or church, but the script by Brian Bird gives the Strobels enough character work to keep them from just being blank audience cyphers, and the direction by Jon Gunn is lively and surprisingly cinematic.

It might be a stretch to say it stands alongside Spotlight or The Post when it comes to movies about people talking on phones and deciding whether or not to publish being gripping visual cinema, but there's enough there to justify it as a movie rather than just a book with moving pictures.

The supporting characters are all authentic, well written and well acted, one newspaper colleague of Strobel's in particular reminding you somewhat of the best work of Aaron Sorkin.

If you want to acknowledge its origins it's come from the same direction as those cheesy, gilt-edged Christian Christmas movies because the real Strobel has a ministry that was undoubtedly very involved in adapting his best selling book of the same name for the screen, and both the director and writer are from that whole 'God movies' firmament.

But it's the most serious look at trying to bring two of our (as a species) most dearly held and contradictory cultural systems together so it's worth your time if you're of that ilk. Quite despite that however, it's perfectly competent filmmaking and worthy watching purely as a movie.

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