“I was born the song of a king,” sings the protagonist of The Song in an early scene — one of the more explicit moments of self-awareness regarding the story’s biblical echoes.
A faith-based romantic drama with a country music milieu, The Song is couched as a contemporary reimagining of the life of King Solomon, son of David. In this retelling, King David becomes David King, an icon in the country music scene whose son Jed (Alan Powell of the Christian band Anthem Lights) struggles to define himself in contrast to his famous father.
Jed is also determined to avoid his father’s mistakes. Like his biblical namesake, David King slept with another man’s wife and later married her after the death of her husband (in this case by suicide, not murder). David’s son Jed even asks God for wisdom before building a house for God, in this case a small chapel in which to wed his beloved, Rose Jordan (Ali Faulkner of Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 1).
Echoes of the biblical stories are accentuated by voiceover recitations from the Song of Songs (hence the title), Proverbs and Ecclesiastes — a surprisingly effective technique, and a relatively daring one for a faith-based film, particularly given the bleak themes of Ecclesiastes.
The biblical resonances themselves are a mixed bag. Echoes of Old Testament stories may make the theme of marital challenges and infidelity more palatable to pious viewers, but at times the connections are forced, even comical. Explaining his prowess at skipping stones, Jed says, “My father was legendary at slinging these things … some would say lethal.” Ho ho.
Even goofier is a comedic, impromptu musical number raiding the famous tale of Solomon’s startlingly Gordian solution to the disputed baby case: In this setting, “Split You Baby” is given a romantic interpretation as Jed serenades Rose from the stage while heckling her ex-boyfriend (who’s such a creampuff that he doesn’t heckle back.)
This version of events makes Jed more wise guy than wise man … and therein lies a problem. Whatever else the film’s biblical resonances do, they undermine the weight of the characters and story, or at least underscore their limitations.
Jed is a Solomonic figure only in externals. As a character, he’s bland and passive, with no sense of greatness — a far cry from the dynamic, ambitious son of David. If his prayer for wisdom is heard, there’s no sign of it; when he falls into sin, it isn’t the fall of a great man, just the stumbling of another shallow sinner. If wisdom isn’t one of your character’s defining traits, should Solomon really be your model?
Even Jed’s awkward, offhand prayer for wisdom emphasizes the triviality of his story. Solomon prayed for wisdom because he felt overwhelmed by responsibility for his father’s legacy. Jed prays for wisdom because writer-director Richard Ramsey wants to connect him to Solomon.
Jed’s one passion is Rose — but since Rose is no better developed as a character than Jed, that doesn’t help much. Like many faith-based productions (most recently the sports drama When the Game Stands Tall), the characters are placeholders in moral situations that are the story’s real interest.
Even as an entertainer, Jed doesn’t seem driven the way that, for example, Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny Cash was in Walk the Line. That is, until Jed is joined onstage by bad-girl Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas). Shelby starts as Jed’s opening act, but soon she’s kicking his trademark love song up a notch with her fiery fiddling (like the drummer in Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do!).
With her tattoos, piercings and sultry stage attitude, Shelby is clearly bad news, placed in Jed’s path to lead him astray. In a subtler, more subversive film, Jed might have heeded the flashing red “Warning” sign over Shelby’s head, only to succumb to a more unexpected temptation. Say, an affair, not with a bad girl, but with a good one: a kindred spirit, pious and sweet. (Someone like Rose.)
On the other hand, if he must go full Ecclesiastes, or at least yield to drinking, drugs and tattoos, then a full-blown crisis of faith is in order. As it is, Jed’s fall is neither subtle and conflicted enough for a believer, nor profound enough for a doubter. The same goes for Jed and Rose’s marital difficulties; a crucial moment in which Jed dissuades Rose from walking away by serenading her borders on insulting.
The Song comes to theaters as the world’s bishops converge on Rome for a synod on the family and evangelization. The film’s themes of marriage and fidelity are important ones, but with respect to evangelization The Song shares the weakness of most faith-based films, which are effectively made by the faithful, for the faithful.
The atheists and nonbelievers in The Case for Christ don’t have horns and tails, or even mustaches for twirling.
Like many popular sensations, from Titanic to Twilight, from Dan Brown to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, The Shack is easy to rip apart if one has a mind to.
Possibly the best and most cinematic sequence in Hillsong – Let Hope Rise is a montage that strikingly captures how the music of the Australian Evangelical church-based praise band Hillsong United touches, and unites, people all around the world.
Greater has three surprises, which is three more than most faith-based films, particularly of the inspirational sports-movie variety.
On paper, and sometimes even on screen, there’s some promise and potential in this remake of Ben-Hur.
The recent beatification of Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until his assassination in 1980, has drawn new attention to the gap between public perception and reality regarding this popular but controverted figure in El Salvador’s turbulent history. For those interested in beginning to understand who Blessed Archbishop Romero really was, the Christopher Award–winning 1989 film Romero, starring Raúl Juliá, isn’t a bad place to start.
Mirroring its populist tale pitting a devout young undergraduate against Kevin Sorbo’s hostile philosophy professor, the faith-based hit indie God’s Not Dead sharply divided enthusiastic faith audiences and scoffing critics.
I took two minutes to talk about this one, and still got in less than half of what bothered me about it.
After ten years, Jesus is back on the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Son of God: my “Reel Faith” review.
For Greater Glory tells a story of religious freedom and oppression that is far too little known, and that would be important and worthwhile at any time, but is strikingly apropos in our cultural moment.
For Greater Glory in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Coming on the heels of Fireproof, Courageous is the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures, and it’s another step forward for the church-based film company … While the film’s church-based roots and the tendency toward didactic, schematic storytelling are still in evidence, Courageous is their most ambitious and watchable film to date.
The 13th Day is the best movie ever made about Fátima — the most beautiful and effective, as well as one of the most historically accurate.
The title reflects the supporting role of John Newton, played with gusto by Albert Finney, as a penitent ex-slave ship captain, now a mentor of sorts to Wilberforce as well as the writer of the beloved American hymn. (“A wretch like me,” Newton was not afraid to call himself in the original lyrics, with a biographical and theological honesty too direct for the revisionist vandals of hymnody responsible for many missalettes and hymnbooks.)
For Verástegui — a former boy-band and telenovela heartthrob known to Latino fans as “the Mexican Brad Pitt” — the mission is simple. “Hollywood doesn’t belong to the studios,” he recently told Decent Films. “Hollywood belongs to God. And we need to take it back. And that’s what I’m trying to do, by example first, trying my best every day to be involved in projects that will inspire people to use their talents to do something positive for the world.”
In the end, Bella has something to challenge everyone, pro-life or otherwise. For pro-lifers, the inspiring ending represents a call to love of neighbor. It isn’t enough just to oppose abortion: We are called to love those in need with the love of Christ, potentially at a cost to ourselves. For those who favor abortion, the ending represents a challenge to recognize that life is a beautiful and precious gift even in far from ideal circumstances, and the choice to embrace life, even when it involves great sacrifice, is also beautiful.
Christians lamenting the state of Hollywood sometimes flippantly comment that this or that Bible story “would make a great movie — intrigue, sex, violence, spectacle, etc.” This, though, is not a recipe for a great movie, but for a mediocre one. The story of Esther could certainly be made into a great film. One Night with the King is not that film. In some ways, it’s not even that story.
With fans of its two genres, especially in the Bible Belt, Facing the Giants will doubtless be a success. To reach a broader audience, though, the filmmakers will have to scrap their playbook and learn a whole new set of rules.
“Ordinary girl. Extraordinary soul” is the tagline of Thérèse, Catholic actor-director Leonardo Defilippis’s reverent, uplifting, straightforward biopic of the Little Flower. Of the tagline’s two clauses, the film’s special burden seems to be the first part, “ordinary girl.”
“A good compromise choice” is how one observer describes the 1977 appointment of Oscar Romero (Raul Julia) — a conservative, orthodox, apolitical bishop of a small rural diocese — to the archbishopric of San Salvador. By the time Archbishop Romero’s tempestuous three-year tenure comes to its violent end, “compromise” is a word no one will ever again think of in connection with him.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.