Film Review: ‘The Case for Christ’

'The Case for Christ' Review: Faith-Based

An intriguing faith-based detective story in which an investigative reporter becomes a true believer.

Although it sporadically errs on the side of sentimentality and simplification, “The Case for Christ” sustains interest, and even generates mild suspense, while offering a faith-based spin on the template of an investigative-journalism drama. Director Jon Gunn and screenwriter Brian Bird have shrewdly reconstituted Lee Strobel’s best-selling book about his road-to-Damascus transition from outspoken atheist to devout Christian as a kind of theological detective story. Of course, there’s never any real doubt as to how the story will be resolved. (After all, the title is “The Case for Christ,” not “The Case Against Christianity.”) But the movie likely will impress even dedicated nonbelievers with its willingness to place as much emphasis on empirical evidence as on blind faith.

The year is 1980, a fact repeatedly underscored by conspicuous period details as Chicago Tribune reporter Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) uses pagers and typewriters instead of smartphone and computers, drinks massive quantities of Schlitz Beer, and keeps his shaggy mane in place with enough hairspray to deplete several acres of the ozone layer.

While Lee and his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen) are in a restaurant one fateful evening with their young daughter Alison (Haley Rosenwasser), the little girl nearly chokes to death on a piece of candy until Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell), a nurse fortuitously dining at a nearby table, steps in to save the child. When Alfie declares God must have guided her to the restaurant to do His will, Lee responds gratefully but skeptically. Leslie, however, isn’t so quick to dismiss the possibility of divine intervention. She accepts Alfie’s invitation to join her in church, one thing leads to another, and soon Lee finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being an atheist married to a born-again Christian.

Determined to bring his wife back to her senses, Lee falls back on his training as an investigative reporter to debunk Christianity by disproving its central tenet, the resurrection of Christ. Trouble is, the more he consults with archaeologists, historians, theologians, and medical experts, the more he hears what he really doesn’t want to hear. Undeterred, he obsessively presses on, thereby escalating tensions between himself and his Bible-studying wife. But wait, there’s more: He’s so distracted from his professional duties that, while covering the case of a police informer (Renell Gibbs) accused of shooting a cop, he rashly rushes to judgment — a sin for which he must seek redemption.

Vogel and Christensen are more than adequate in the lead roles, individually and in tandem, and it’s not entirely their fault that, at times, they sound as though they’re reading bullet points instead of delivering dialogue. But Vogel repeatedly is hard-pressed to hold his own opposite the scene-stealing supporting players in colorful cameo roles. As a renowned pathologist who has proven to his own satisfaction that, no, Jesus didn’t survive the crucifixion, Tom Nowicki strikes the perfect balance of common sense and bemused condescension. Robert Forster doesn’t have much to do during his fleeting appearance as Lee’s estranged father, but he vividly expresses an affecting mix of regret, sorrow and frustration during a failed attempt at reconciliation.

And Faye Dunaway makes the absolute most of her juicy single scene as a psychologist who gets to deliver the movie’s sharpest line when Lee asks her whether 500 or so eyewitness could have been sharing the same delusion when they claimed to have seen Jesus after He rose from the dead. “That,” she replies, “would have been an even bigger miracle than the Resurrection.” Not surprisingly, Lee can’t come up with a comeback to that.

Film Review: 'The Case for Christ'

Reviewed at Edwards Marq*E Stadium 23, Houston, April 6, 2017. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 112 MIN.

Production

A Pure Flix Entertainment release of a Pure Flix, Triple Horse Studios production. Producers: Michael Scott, David A.R. White, Karl Horstmann, Brittany Lefebvre.

Crew

Director: Jon Gunn. Screenplay: Brian Bird, based on the book by Lee Strobel. Cinematography (color): Brian Shanley. Editor: Vance Null.

With

Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, Robert Forster, Frankie Faison, L. Scott Caldwell, Tom Nowicki, Renell Gibbs, Haley Rosenwasser.

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  1. Ron A. Zajac says:

    Yes, “The Case for Christ” marginally overcomes a few of the boogums that haunt earlier efforts to cinematize evangelical Christianity…. but really the gnat continues to be strained while the camel is still being swallowed. No less than others of its type, the film clearly resides under the fundie bell jar.

    I can give lots of examples; let’s look at one: There’s an awkward scene shift. In one scene, the hero’s mentor slaps a rather unrepresentative dogeared prop tome “Why I’m Not a Christian” (by Bertrand Russell) on the table. (The essay would probably fit into about 10 book pages, and can be read in 15 minutes). In the very next scene, the hero’s editor mouths that old ridiculous chestnut; that the validity of Christianity rests on the historicity of the death and resurrection. So… What happened to Russell’s proposition which mostly concerned itself with questions of the place of creed in the thinking person’s life?

    In short: The movie abounds with straw dogs. The screenwriter creates a groomed moral/ethical sandbox in which one strain of evangelical Christianity can build its familiar, cozy little self-validating apologetic sandcastles. It bears asking what the heck this could ever have to do with service to the cause of Christ.

    And–important parting shot–in my mind, this doesn’t really significantly stray from the approaches of earlier exertions of this kind.

  2. Hywel Window says:

    Not a bad film, well acted and entertaining. The “case for Christ” though is still very weak, I mean….people 2000 years ago claim to have seen him after he died – wow, I’m convinced!!

    • David says:

      If that’s the only evidence of the existence of Christ that you got from the movie you must have slept through most of it.

  3. Julaine Bortz says:

    An amazing movie! My husband & I took turns wiping the tears from our eyes – very touching and entertaining at the same time.

  4. Melody says:

    It was a great movie! It managed to keep the attention of the audience & the Christian characters did not come off “preachy” at all. I felt they all were practical while firm in their faith. I don’t mind preachy, but that’s bc I’m a Believer. The reviewer seemed to purposely tip toe around saying anything too positive about the movie. It’s almost like he wished the movie had been grossly one sided so he could lambaste the film. That points to the fact that the world wants badly to label anything about Jesus ‘hogwash.’ He told the plot, but didn’t give any depth to what the film actually conveyed. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t understand, much like Lee Strobel’ skeptical self. People who aren’t Christians feel they have to rationalize faith. SMH.

  5. Mike says:

    “After all, it’s not like the MEN who wrote all religious texts would have hidden agendas or anything, right?” As ANY historian of any era will tell you, you have to have an agenda to tell any story. Do you think Josephus didn’t have an agenda when he wrote about the Jewish war? Do you think Heroditus didn’t have an agenda when he wrote about the Greco-Persian war? As ANY historian will tell you people can only tell the stories: # 1. They have a good reason to tell. ie motive. # 2. They have a particular perspective on that story. Everyone now recognizes that anyone telling a story or giving an account can only tell the story from their own perspective. The point is the early followers of Christ sincerely believed they saw Jesus alive after his death. The good historian tries to understand how they arrived at that conclusion. What event transpired that made them believe he was alive? The fact that you think you can flippantly come up with “plenty” of comebacks as to how 500 people all hallucinate simultaneously the same experience demonstrates you haven’t really investigated the nature of hallucinations, nor the evidence for the appearances of Christ.

    • Robin says:

      OK…..Many comments on the review but not much yet on the movie. That’s OK. The subject matter itself is enough to set most people’s hair on fire.

      Mike —- the “MEN” who wrote the gospels (after some “MAN” named Paul wrote some letters to churches 15 years after the time of crucifixion/resurrection) were doing so in order to record what happened — either after interviewing those who had been there or (in some cases) perhaps their own experiences….It was not uncommon for people in the first century to take notes on the sayings of their favorite rabbis so much of this may have been distributed and known even before compilation into “gospels”……and there can be lots of discussions about dating of them. But the gospels were written primarily in the style typical for biographies of that era. Nothing wrong with that. As for hidden agendas and hallucinations — there is no historical doubt that Jesus of Nazareth lived and then was crucified under the term of Pontius Pilate and that his followers were discouraged and then suddenly came to believe in his resurrection. Hallucinations??? Keep in mind that the Judaism of that era was exoecting that a Jewish man would come who would be both Messiah and God. That he was crucified and humiliated probably was not part of their expectations. For info on hallucinations, read more.

      I may or may not see the movie…..read the book years ago.

  6. RS says:

    There are plenty of comebacks to the claims made by Dunaway’s character in that last paragraph, but one wonders if Strobel (the man AND the character) has simply consumed too much of the kool-aid at that point. After all, it’s not like the MEN who wrote all religious texts would have hidden agendas or anything, right?

    • Another Poster says:

      It’s written in the Bible that it was the Women who first found the empty tomb on Easter Sunday and they had to bring the men to grave site to prove what they had seen.
      Why would the MEN who wrote all religious texts and had hidden agendas given the credit to the WOMEN for First discovering that Jesus had rose from the dead, (His body placed in a tomb with a boulder in front and guarded by Roman soldiers to make sure no human stole the body).
      Also, many of those men who ran away from Jesus when he was arrested, (such as Peter), were willing to die to spread the word, after He rose from the dead. 11 of the 12 original disciples died a violent death. John, (who wrote a couple of books). died in exile.
      How many men with hidden agendas would die to spread a lie?
      Two thousand years after Jesus died on a cross, He is never going away, (unlike Spartacus who also died on a cross).

  7. Steve says:

    This review is confusing. It says, “While Lee and his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen) are in a restaurant one fateful evening with their young daughter Alison (Haley Rosenwasser)…”

    Okay, so Lee is married to Leslie and their daughter is Alison. Got it.

    “Alison, however, isn’t so quick to dismiss the possibility of divine intervention.”

    All right, so the daughter decides to accept Jesus. I understand what you’re saying.

    “…soon Lee finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being an atheist married to a born-again Christian.”

    Soooooo…Lee marries his daughter? This would seem to be a completely different movie, perhaps even a telling of Genesis 19:30-38, where Lot’s two daughters seduce their father. Somehow, though, I don’t think this is the case.

    • Charles Barnes says:

      Well, I didn’t see the review at the time you wrote your comment but it appears to now read, “Leslie, however, isn’t so quick to dismiss the possibility of divine intervention.” I can only assume that the author of the review corrected the error no doubt thanks to your comment pointing it out. That being the case, I thank you for drawing attention to the error so that it could be corrected before other readers could be confused by it as you were.

    • Richard says:

      According to the New Testament, a woman was the first evangelist. Also, if one reads the greetings and exhortations in Paul’s letters, he mentions various women as important and leading members of the churches his letters address. In that culture a woman’s testimony wasn’t worth much, and in this respect the epistles and gospels are quite counter-cultural and radically affirmative. And some scholars think the Book of Hebrews may have been written by a woman (the writer of that book is un-identified).

      I haven’t seen this movie yet, but it looks interesting. Usually I don’t go for “faith-based” films because of sappy scripts and poor acting (“The Hiding Place” excepted).

  8. QuamDown says:

    Can’t wait to see this.

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