Let’s start out by stating that God’s Not Dead is the best/worst movie I have seen in a while. For those of you who don’t know what I mean by that you are probably thinking Jason has lost his mind. It’s been quite some time since I wrote a review and when I finally come out and do it I announce that it is the best/worst film ever. In order for me to truly talk about this film (maybe because I am out of practice) I am going to have to do some very minor spoilers in this review so be forewarned before you continue on with reading this review.
As many of you know, I am a Christian and I usually end up finding myself watching and waiting for one of these films to achieve the goal of being a truly great Hollywood Christian film. Once again I found myself let down despite a very valiant attempt by the makers of this film. God’s Not Dead doesn’t necessarily disappoint but it just seems to fall victim of the very same troupes that all Christian films do.
The film follows a young college student who decides to stand up for his belief in God against a very hard-nosed Atheist professor despite the odds being stacked against him. The journey to defend God leads him down a path to better understanding his faith and potentially changing the lives of the people around him.
First things first I found the classroom scenes to be some of the best parts in the film. The debate between Atheist teacher and Christian student proved to be the most interesting parts of the film and I truly do think if they had spent more time on that focus in the film it would have been far more effective in its goal. Kevin Sorbo does a great job as the “evil” Atheist teacher who tells the class “God is Dead” and promises to make it a very long semester for those who don’t agree with him. His quick responses and well thought out rhetoric makes him a formidable foe for the young college student who wants to prove the latter. Sorbo was so perfect for the role it was almost comical at times. However, I did feel they made Sorbo almost too comic book villain like, complete with evil goatee and a strange commitment to evil victory at all costs. Despite rooting for the young Christian, I actually felt ashamed in the way a Christian film portrayed Atheists. They made them out to be evil, hateful people and seemed perfectly ok with it. At the same time the film felt the need to bring in a sub plot about an Islamic girl who converted to Christianity and was tossed out of the house by her “evil” and apparently abusive Islamic father. For a movie that should be preaching love, they seemed to love to draw attention to all the “hate” it could muster. Perhaps it is just me, but I think you can show people challenging your beliefs and not make them out to be pure evil. Obviously the makers of God’s Not Dead did not share the same viewpoint.
Instead of just sticking to the main story of teacher vs. student in a science based proof of God it also tries to introduce side stories that are all interconnected. For some reason we have to weave a story of changed lives, free will, abandoning Islamic faith, a Pastor who feels as though he isn’t doing anything worthy enough to please God, a cancer patient reporter and just for fun a Christian girlfriend for our Atheist teacher who just happens to have a scummy businessman for a brother (played by Dean Cain) who refuses to visit his Christian dementia filled mother in the nursing home. If that run on sentence seemed too much to handle, don’t worry. It was too many plot lines for the film to handle too. So instead we jump from subplot to subplot and “connect them” loosely through brief relationship connections and eventually a big closing number by Christian rock band, Newsboys at a concert in perhaps the biggest Christian film trope of them all.
What is the most sad about that giant list of sub plots is those were the stories that made the film more cheesy, disorganized and all around just silly at times. The atheist cancer patient reporter just seemed to be such a forced trope it became silly quickly. The Islamic faith conversion girl story line led absolutely no where other than to have her appear at the concert and briefly talk to the pastor mentioned in the film. Perhaps in what turns out to be the biggest, most irritating trope of the film was the Pastor’s role in the film. Apparently he just wants to go on vacation and through a series of divine interventions (in form of cars that won’t start) he just can’t make it out of town which coincidentally puts him in the perfect place at the perfect time to bring a Bible filled conclusion to this film.
Sorbo’s Christian girlfriend serves very little purpose other than connecting brief plot points to carry Sorbo’s character from point A to point B and to link the dementia mother and evil brother to the plot line. Despite the overall silliness of this sub plot, I do think one of the film’s strongest moments take place between Dean Cain and the dementia ridden mother. Even though I struggled with most of their sub plot story, the final pay off between the two turns out to be one of the richest dialogue in the entire film. I felt like so much was said in just a few brief moments of clarity sentences by the mother.
All in all, I actually did enjoy God’s Not Dead. It struggles with many of the Christian film tropes that all films in this genre do. The budget is low, the acting is usually somewhat mediocre and the film makers feel the need to push their agenda a little too hard. Usually I find these faith based films as somewhat self-serving. By that I mean they are there to be self-congratulatory to other similar minded people and rarely do anything to draw in non-believers to the film. They feel pushy and preachy and do more to push away atheist than try to start a conversation. However despite that, God’s Not Dead did a pretty good job of keeping the conversation going between both sides of the coin. It countered science and faith and realistically did very little to change anyone’s mind on the subject but did start the debate. I give the film kudos to try and breach the topic. The film kept me interested, kept me entertained and I’m still thinking about it days after watching it. Therefore I think it was somewhat successful. Perhaps God’s Not Dead truly is the best/worst film of them all.