What do you think of when you hear the world faith-based film? You might think of something a little cheesy. Maybe something a little preachy. Maybe you’re thinking of something that focuses more on faith-based than the idea of film. As someone who attended film school through a Christian university, I thought a lot of the same things. But in recent years, some filmmakers have worked to change that perception.
A couple who’ve done well at that are Jon and Andrew Erwin, brothers who worked in sports at ESPN before transitioning to film. Since then, they’ve focused on telling inspirational faith-based stories, mostly based on real people. That’s led to some interesting films like Woodlawn, I Still Believe and I Can Only Imagine. In 2021, they gave us American Underdog, which told the story of Kurt Warner and was one of my favorite films of that year.
Now, the Erwins are back with Jesus Revolution. This is another true story, but this might be the most overtly message-driven film they’ve done. It takes us back to California in the late 1960s, where Time Magazine poses the question, “Is God Dead?” For Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), that’s an apt question in a nearly empty church full of older congregants. It’s also fodder for a sermon, but his daughter, (Alexia Loannides), comes across hippie street preacher Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), she brings him home.
At first taken back, when Chuck listens to Lonnie and his story, he can’t help but be moved by the man’s faith and passion. He’s also inspired to reach out to others who, like Lonnie, were looking for truth and love only found in Scripture.
Meanwhile, Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) was also looking for meaning and direction. After trying to find in in a number of places and coming up short, he stumbles across Lonnie, which leads him to what’s looking for most—God. Together, Greg, Chuck and Lonnie become part of a movement to change the world that inspires Time Magazine to dub it the Jesus Revolution.
There are parts of this movie that really worked for me. I was particularly drawn to the first hour and the movement as it’s being built. The early scenes with Grammer and Roumie were particularly engaging. But as the film turns the corner, it feels like the story turns to more cliches.
This is based, in part, on a book from Laurie. It’s supposed to be his story but for large swaths of the production his story in the film feels like the least engaging part. His love story, in real life, is inspiring but on the screen it lacks some pop.
The bones of something emotional and compelling are here. As noted, I’ve enjoyed some Erwin brothers productions in the past. Here, Jon is a co-director alongside Brent Mccorkle while Andrew is a producer. I was also deeply moved by some of the theological ideas here, something I personally love to see explored in film. But this didn’t cross the finish line as I’d hoped.
Jesus Revolution opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.
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