“Jesus” Is Not Bad At All

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The movie Jesus Revolution continues a pattern of Christian-oriented films that have far exceeded box office expectations. We in the CINCH REVIEW household don’t often go out to the theater to see movies these days, as merely being pummeled by the previews has been a near-fatal experience in the past, but having been charmed by a few things we heard about this film we made an exception. (Deviously, we lurked in the hallway outside the theater proper, peeking in to see when the previews had ended. For the record, they went on for 25 whole minutes.)

The film was assuredly a pleasant surprise. This story of a Christian revival bursting out amongst hippies in southern California as the 1960s bled into the 1970s is told with a light touch, intelligence and sensitivity by the filmmakers. Jesus Revolution is very light indeed on theology or preaching, to the point where I think that viewers need not be believing Christians to appreciate it. On a certain level, it works as a more general story of people who are lost, damaged and on the edge of a precipice coming together and finding reason for hope and achieving some real redemption through their sharing of love and of mercy.

An interesting aspect of the film is how it seemed to me to successfully convey—without being at all didactic—the distinction between faith in God and faith in religious leaders. The leaders are portrayed as flawed men, making them as such pretty normal, but their failings don’t succeed in discrediting the goodness of God. Putting one’s faith in the perfection of any minister, pastor or priest is naturally only going to lead to disillusionment; this may be a danger that appears obvious, but that doesn’t prevent it from occurring continually.

Since, as said, the film is overall very light on theology, a seriously religious person might even question its value. Is it really a Christian movie, anyway? Where is Jesus, other than in the distorted shadow of the hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee? Well, maybe he can be found. As the movie progresses, there are turns in the plot which hinge on changes of heart, and on small instances of forgiveness. They are small, that is, in the context of the wide world, but I think that prayerful believers learn that there are no more transformative miracles than those which come about in a true change of heart or in an act of genuine forgiveness. If Jesus lives (and that is what Christians believe) than this is surely where he manifests himself.

Kelsey Grammer delivers what seems a very heartfelt performance as Pastor Chuck Smith, and Jonathan Roumie is excellent as the volatile Lonnie Frisbee. Joel Courtney stars as the young Greg Laurie, struggling to get beyond a shattered upbringing, and Anna Grace Barlow stars as his girlfriend. Portraying high school age kids, a lot of the younger actors seem a little, well, old, but, after all, one must leave one’s disbelief at the door.

In case anyone would get the wrong idea, yours truly is not proposing that Jesus Revolution is filmmaking on the level of The Searchers or Rear Window or anything like that. It is a nice movie, made with deftness, humor and a good heart.

These days, it seems to me, that’s saying a hell of a lot.