It is extremely rare for a Christian movie to get such great reviews. So when I found out that Rotten Tomatoes currently has it at a fresh rating, I wanted to make sure that I saw this one. There’s typically only three reasons why RT gives out a great Tomatometer score. The first is that it’s a genuinely great movie, the second is because it’s a mindless crowd pleaser, and finally, it’s because it has the right politics.
Since this is a Christian movie we’re talking about, I had extreme doubts that it was option 2 or 3. So it has to be a genuinely great movie, right?
Well, yes this movie is pretty grand. It’s probably one of the best Christian movies I’ve seen… but that’s not a massive accomplishment.
Mike Vogel‘s portrayal of real life skeptic-turned-believer Lee Strobel was pretty good. The performance is not groundbreaking or complex by any stretch of the imagination, but I blame this entirely on the script and direction and not on Vogel as a performer, because almost every single emotional moment that he hits during his character arc was successful in emitting that emotion.
I was afraid that Strobel’s wife character was just going to be a simple prop and catalyst for Strobel’s journey, but thankfully, her performance and her development improved over the course of the movie. She’s still not given very much character, however; the majority of her presence in the movie is to hand out those good ol’ Christian slogans and honey traps that the Christian audience really really wants. Thankfully, those moments usually don’t come across as too preachy.
Strobel’s daughter character was decent and only decent. After seeing her in a couple of scenes, I was desperately hoping that the movie would not attempt to give her a scene where she had to pull off a compelling performance, and sure enough, there’s a scene where she has to portray a scared child witnessing an intense domestic argument, and her line delivery made me laugh. It completely took me out of the scene.
The rest of the characters in this movie were fine.
The film is essentially split into three parts:
— Strobel and his investigative attempts to disprove the death and resurrection of Jesus
— Strobel’s attempts to write a story about a man accused of shooting a cop
–Strobel’s family life tensions due to his wife suddenly believing in Jesus
All three of these stories are interwoven together, and they occasionally don’t mesh very well. It’s no surprise that the best parts of the film were the parts where Strobel was investigating Jesus’s resurrection. The film does a really fantastic job of attempting to share both sides of the story. There’s a lot of Christian movies that try (and fail… looking at you, The Shack) to have an atheist character attempt to dismantle Jesus, the Bible, etc., only to have been obliterated and/or shamed by the Christian character in the movie. The Case for Christ does nothing of the sort. Because Lee Strobel is a real person and because he was legitimately trying to debunk Jesus, his questions and his follow-up questions were really well-thought out and argumentative.
Basically, this movie doesn’t attempt to straw-man atheists as horrible people like your typical God’s Not Dead type of movie. There are scenes were Strobel does some pretty bad things, but it’s because of his character and his flaws, and not simply because he’s a dirty atheist.
Make no mistake though: this is a movie for Christians. The tone, and the soundtrack (and the soundtrack was quite possibly the worst part of the film) clearly point to Christianity as in the right. It certainly helps that our protagonist is an atheist and not a Christian, but don’t expect this movie to be a well-balanced debate between Christianity and atheism. Thankfully though, if you’re not a Christian and you’re interested in this movie, you can at least expect the film to not treat you like a demon child, even if you don’t find its arguments compelling enough to convert to Christianity.
There are one or two moments that could come across as preachy, there is a little bit of cheese in the movie, and it unfortunately has some dumb flashback scenes, but none of these aspects stopped me from really enjoying this film. I had a great time with it, and I found it very intellectually stimulating.
It’s really odd that my most enjoyed Christian movies are ones where the character is definitively not Christian (like 1959’s Ben-Hur, or last year’s Risen). I truly think the reason behind this is because it forces the Christian movie makers to actually humanize non-Christians, which in turn forces the script to make actual characters instead of just walking straw-men.
And even though I am a Christian, what I really want from my Christian films is for me to be challenged or entertained intellectually (something I demand of every movie, not just Christian ones). The Case for Christ is the most successful religious movie in that regard. If it weren’t for all of it’s flaws, I would give it a point higher, but I must be objective.
If you’re a Christian, go see this film as soon as you can, and if you’re not, see this one anyway because it’s a step in the right direction for religious films.