Healing and uplifting. Jesus Revolution is a biographical drama that simultaneously depicts the past whilst critiquing the present. Based on a true story about the radical search for truth, comes a motion picture that is simultaneously concerned with critiquing our present world as much as it is depicting historical events. Through exploring the past, the journey’s true value is not merely a better understanding of the past, but the impact on our present world. The real power of this motion picture is the ability for it to use a story from the past as a provocative lens through which to understand the current state of affairs in both popular culture and the Church.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Greg Laurie and a sea of young people descend on sunny Southern California to redefine truth through all means of liberation. Inadvertently, Laurie meets a charismatic street preacher and a pastor who open the doors to a church to a stream of wandering youth. What unfolds is a counterculture movement that becomes the greatest spiritual awakening in American history.
Directors Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle demonstrate that they are just as concerned about the story itself as they are the methodology of crafting a film. Moreover, Jesus Revolution is the first faith-based film (that isn’t a sword and sandal epic) to take itself seriously as a motion picture. Believe me, I was as shocked as critic to find that the cinematography and editing are quite good! Not to mention the excellent lead cast. Cowriting the screenplay with Erwin is the central figure in the film Greg Laurie. Which does give me pause, because individuals writing a biographical drama based on them or major events in which they were a central figure often leads to a lack of authenticity. However, the screenplay is helped by Erwin and Jon Gunn, which is probably why the film feels as honest as it does.
The variety of characters portrayed in the film gives audiences someone with whom to connect. Which isn’t to say that the character with whom you connect is always a positive reaction; perhaps the character with whom you connect is one that is more concerned with ritual, image, and piety than with people and relationships. At the end of the day, this is a film about radical love, and how we need to concern ourselves with not what divides us but with what brings us together.
The biggest draw in the cast is Frasier himself! Kelsey Grammer plays Chuck Smith, the pastor of a dying church, whom is confronted with his own prejudgments about young people and hippie culture. It takes the radical street preacher Lonnie Frisbee and his skeptical-of-Christianity daughter to transform his world view. While Grammer is not the central character in Jesus Revolution, he is the one that you may be coming to see, especially with the highly anticipated revival of his smash hit Frasier. Suffice it to say, Grammer is the best actor in the movie, but he is surrounded by a solid lead cast that shows that faith-based films can deliver quality performances. Through candid arguments and authentic portrayals of raw conflict and reactions, this character-driven motion picture will hold up a mirror to your face and ask you which of these characters you are.
Both the cinematography and editing are on point. There are some absolutely gorgeous shot sequences and even some stylistic editing choices that exponentially increase the quality of this picture compared to most other faith-based films. Where most faith-based films fail is in the ART and SCIENCE of what it takes to craft a compelling picture. More than an objective eye to capture the outside-action plot, the camera is used in the same way an author uses a pen to write a novel. In cinematic terms we call this the camera stylo. There is certainly an auteur quality to this film that is just as concerned with how the story is being presented, and not just what is being presented to audiences.
What I appreciate more than the technical achievement of the film is the fact it doesn’t shy away from how awful christians can be to one another and to outsiders. One thing this faith-based film is not, is an echo chamber for those that already believe. The film is sure to make some people feel uncomfortable; and you know what, it’s not non-believers that this film seeks to make the most uncomfortable (although there is certainly a proselytizing message in the film), the those that are made the most uncomfortable with themselves are judgey christians that care way more about their club than for a hurting world in search for truth and in need of the kind of radical love that Jesus was all about.
Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Film Critics of America. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.