Do You Believe? is uneven, bumpy, and at times simply unbelievable. It’s also the best Hollywood-style “Christian” movie of its type. The acting, while uneven, is a huge step above the norm. Its cinematography, too, is by far the best seen in these kinds of films, and there are two moments that the equal of the best films of the year.
Those “moments” include a pan that may well provoke an audible shocked gasp from the audience (spoilers preclude me saying anything more). But what horror or mystery films often fail to do well is done deftly and successfully here in a moment that is meant to be surprising and tense, and is. The other “moment” is actually an entire sequence. All I’ll say here is that involves a series of car crashes that is believable and horrible at the same time. There is a melodramatic thread that takes the sequence into something of a “been there/done that” side story, but the beginning of the sequence is a model of direction—within or outside of the context of “Christian films”.
Artistically, the film is a Christian version of Best Picture winner Crash. It fits neatly into the category of hyperlink cinema, best demonstrated in the films 21 Grams, Babel, Traffic, and even reaching back to Robert Altman’s Nashville. If Do You Believe? can be faulted for a high degree of “coincidence” with character and situation, so should these others.
The film is the latest and best example of what we might call traditional evangelical American cinema, and perhaps one of the strongest reasons for its success is the presence of A- and B-list starts. Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino and Lord of the Rings and “Rudy” star Sean Astin may be the most famous—and perhaps most talented—but the film presents the film return of Cybill Shepherd (The Last Picture Show) and television’s “Six Million Dollar Man,” Lee Majors. Ex-football star Brian Bosworth has a major role, and acquits himself fairly well. The young and talented Makenzie Moss threatens to steal the film with her combination of cuteness and realism. And virtual unknown Liam Matthews probably holds the film together most strongly with a character that is real and immoveable. It’s the film’s most solid performance, and needs to be.
The script tries to do way too much, and throws in nearly everything but the kitchen sink. But the film’s structure is a big step forward, and the dialogue is more realistic and intelligent—and realistically spoken—than in any other film of its type.
As a Christian film, and with me now writing this sentence as a Christian, I can say that the film is aimed at the believer, giving us what we want to hear and see, and encouraging us in the process. It’s also aimed at the unbeliever that is being drawn into Christianity. Lastly, for the nonbeliever, it’s one of the clearest demonstrations of what Christians believe that I’ve seen on the screen. As corny as some of the scenes and situations might be and sound, this is what we Christians really believe—from the forgiveness to the (spoiler alert) miracle (so well set-up and yet still not well connected to the rest of the film) to the reality of what it means to carry one’s cross on a daily basis to the increasing resistance we feel from our culture (lawsuit).
From a film artistry point of view, one’s reaction is dependent to a great extent on the spiritual beliefs of the viewer. If one connects to the religious reality up on the screen, as a drummer or other musician might connect with Whiplash, then this is a fairly well done film that can be quite moving, with excellent cinematography, and some solid acting. If one is opposed to Christian faith, its faults will loom larger, and the uneven acting and the script’s weaknesses will be off-putting, and even the various conflicts may be hard to relate to.
For my Christian brothers and sisters, let me say this is the best of the bunch so far, and makes me hopeful for the future of this branch of film. For my non-Christian friends, come and view this as an anthropological study, and you’ll gain some insight into what your crazy Christian friends really believe.