Jonathan Roumie (known for playing Jesus in The Chosen) is back to portray... you guessed it, a JESUS look-alike named Lonnie Frisbee, in the Jesus Revolution.
Thanks to an invite from friends, I joined some 7,000 others who saw a sneak peek of the film attended by Jon Erwin (co-director) and Greg Laurie (whose early life serves as scaffolding for much of the story). We do learn more about Frisbee nearer the end, as his storyline becomes far more complicated by comparison.
Now, for the record, I'm frequently one of faith-based films' harshest critics, my logic being simple enough: "The greatest story ever told" should be told WAY better than it is! Save singular performative exceptions by Max Von Sydow, Robert Powell or Christian Bale, and even rarer production exceptions on the order of The Passion of the Christ or those bygone, big-budget studio behemoths like 1956's The Ten Commandments (that only tell the first half of the story), many faith-based films come with a caveat that sounds something like this: "It's not bad... for a faith-based film."
This is code for low production value, hammy dialogue, amateur acting, syrupy sentimentality, annoying preachiness, unrealistic black-and-whiteness, an overall After School Special vibe, and outright cloyingness. Or, said another way, "So embarrassing that I hope it's gone before anyone else sees it!" We do, after all, want to experience then share something superior, do we not? An exaltation, I should think, especially given the subject and His eternal matters.
The heart of the irony (to my way of thinking, at least) is a matter of trade-offs: On the one hand, I can see high-integrity, true-to-the-scriptures films made by ardent believers and designed to outreach but which infrequently succeed (much less endure) at the box office (to say nothing of failing to achieve their intended aim), OR, I can get an Oscar-worthy Hollywood blockbuster starring and made by seasoned vets that's built on theological sand or riven by heretical side-tangents. Exhibits for the former phenomena include The Nativity Story, Fireproof, War Room, God's Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Moms' Night Out, etc. And perhaps the most representative exhibit for the latter includes The Last Temptation of Christ by Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, and Martin Scorsese.
A third path, I suppose, is films that are neither here nor there. They are, for example, just really great movies and, oh, by the way, they have one faithful character, or relationship, or line, or scene, or golden thread (that somehow winds-up being incredibly moving and powerful in its evangelism, however understated, which makes it all the more authentic and effective, excluding, as it does, too much heavy-handedness or overt miraculousness). Here, I'm thinking of classics like Lilies of the Field, To Kill A Mockingbird, Schindler's List, or even Braveheart, Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Help, or Forrest Gump.
All of which brings me back to Jesus Revolution, because it is a legitimately well-rounded movie. A bridge, perhaps, to higher and higher-caliber films that can stand on their own merits and which are gospel-grounded. And if not quite the bridge, then a scent, a breeze, a glimpse, a precursor, a preview, a prelude, or a promise of what might come in the years ahead — because Jesus Revolution clears the 'production value' low-bar easily and succeeds as a coming-of-age film heading into Lent and Easter.
For those interested, the makers have established an ecosystem of resources where folks can learn more about the Jesus at the center of this particular revolution: https://jesusrevolution.movie/
Beyond the film, Greg is his own cottage industry — from pastoring to podcasting to moviemaking to radio broadcasting to writing 70 books to blogging — one of his February submissions is here, and it's right on the mark: https://harvest.org/resources/gregs-blog/post/more-than-a-film-all-about-jesus-revolution/
So get out and see the film, won't you? Wednesday, February 22nd, it opens wide.
You'll be glad you did, and not embarrassed. I promise.