Left Behind – Christian Movie Review
[Update: This review was edited with the addition of the section “The Strangely Anti-Christian Feel of this ‘Christian’ Film” at 11:38am, Friday, Oct. 3, 2014, as well as some additional comments after new information about the director came to light.]
I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of the Left Behind books. (And yes, I’ve read them.) When it comes to the Rapture theology, I have a viewpoint somewhat similar to that of prominent theologian John Piper. I do not believe in what’s called the “pre-tribulation rapture.” Although I don’t have room to get into it here, this article summarizes the objections I have to pre-trib rapture theology — a theology that first appeared in Western Christian teachings in the mid-1800s.
Although I’m not a fan of the books, I am definitely a fan of Nicolas Cage. He’s been in some of my favorite films. I hadn’t seen him on the big screen in awhile, so I couldn’t help but catch Left Behind. I was curious to see how the character Rayford Steele would hold up with The Cage at the helm. As I suspected, Nicolas Cage turned in the best performance in the movie. As Steele, he plays an airline pilot who must manage a crisis on his plane when the Rapture occurs mid-flight and causes mysterious vanishings.
Despite Cage’s solid performance, the film as a whole suffered greatly, to my disappointment.
Although I’m not “pre-trib,” I do certainly believe in the Second Coming of Christ. Sharing that larger theological pillar that is common to most of Christendom is far more important than arguing about pre-trib vs. post-trib. So, despite my theological misgivings, I was cheering for the film to succeed in its art.
It did not.
I’ll explain why I believe that in a moment, but first:
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: The main character Rayford Steele intends to embark on an affair with one of his stewardesses. We see lingering shots of her bare legs, and she acts sensually around Rayford and hints at “repaying him” for obtaining tickets for her to see U2 in concert.
Violence/Gore: A woman crashes her car, and we see blood on her arm. A man shoots another man with a shotgun, though it is not gory or even bloody. We see mass panic, including rioting, car crashes, thefts, and other non-gory mayhem.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: We see a woman holding a small bag of drugs, and it is implied that she takes them.
Frightening/Intense/Emotionally Heavy Content: A woman threatens airline passengers with a gun, and then almost kills herself with it. An airliner crash lands and almost blows up. Two jets collide, and one trails off in flames. Children vanish into thin air, and we see mothers weeping over their lost children.
The film is PG-13, though I think it is fairly mild for a PG-13 rating — probably closer to PG.
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The Strangely Anti-Christian Feel of this “Christian” Film
The movie critic elites brutalized this film. After reading some of the negative reviews, there isn’t much I can say in the film’s defense. One reviewer simply wrote this: “Score one for Satan.”
That about sums it up.
Of all the Christian movies I’ve seen, this one, which purports to be aimed at the faith-based audience, portrays Christians in an incredibly unflattering light: in the film the blatantly Christian characters are irritating, bumbling, a little air-headed, and they have sort of a slightly delusional, weirdly forced Christian shininess to them, as if you’re about to find out — in a The Stepford Wives kind of way — that they’re all robots.
Also, the film’s veneer as a Christian film felt like a money grab. I walked away confused. The camera filmed a few token shots highlighting cross necklaces and Bibles, and Cage has the most clever line in the movie when he mentions his wife running away with Jesus, but beyond that it felt like a halfhearted, unconvincing nod to something that is, in my mind, far more than a sci-fi thriller involving people getting sucked out of their clothes into Heaven.
It’s no surprise that the film’s director never noticed the Biblical content of the books when he first read them, and, in a recent interview, he had this to say about that:
[My agent] David Gersh said, “Well, what about the religious aspect?” And I said, “What religious aspect?” He said, “Didn’t you find it strange when people disappeared on the plane and everything?” I said, “David, I did Starship Troopers, and I didn’t question it when great big bugs came climbing over the hill and ripped people’s heads off. That’s the world I live in!”
That attitude comes across in the film. It just feels like Hollywood is throwing a bone to the faith-based audience to make a quick buck.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
And then there’s the production value of this film.
I never feel comfortable harshly criticizing the hard work of a filmmaker, especially considering that I’ve never made a film in my life. What do I know? But, as a reviewer, I’m obligated to give my honest reaction to what I experienced. I can only speak from the point of view of the consumer who tastes the final product.
Before I go there, I will say, once again, that the Oscar-winning Nicolas Cage did a superb job in his role. He has that uncanny knack of taking any bit of dialogue, no matter what it is, and turning it into the most natural sounding speech you could imagine, as if you were watching a real person speaking their thoughts in the moment from the heart, as opposed to watching an actor recite memorized lines.
But, other than that, the film was just so awkward. Awkward lines, awkward scene flow, awkward camera angles, very awkward, animatronic delivery of lines in certain scenes. I just kept wincing. And the music. Lord, have mercy. I’m sorry if I am hurting anyone’s feelings who worked on the film — that’s really not my intention — but the soundtrack for the film absolutely baffled me. It was not ready for prime time. It felt unfinished. There were odd choices, like the mid-’90s elevator smooth jazz for the movie’s peppy intro or the peculiar drum solos played on a rock drum kit in a reverb-washed room; and these ’80s-like drum solos were meant to create intensity during the most dramatic scenes. I’ve never heard that in a serious feature film soundtrack before. My jaw dropped to the floor.
And there were too many overtly dramatic, heart-to-heart conversations between characters. The film really laid it on thick with an endless series of deep conversations accompanied by swelling strings.
I’ll try to end with some positives: besides the always fantastic acting of Nicolas Cage, I was pleasantly surprised to find the wonderful Martin Klebba among the cast — an actor I began following after his role in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Although I really didn’t like how he was tossed out of the plane in the final scene, which somehow came across as demeaning.
The love that Rayford re-discovers for his family — portrayed, once again, with great chops from Cage — is touching. Singer-turned-actor Jordin Sparks did a decent job in her crazy-woman-with-a-gun scene, and some of the special effects — especially the mid-air collision between airliners — were done well enough.
Even though I didn’t like the film — and I probably have some bias in that regard; reviews are innately subjective — it was interesting to see Nicolas Cage in a role like this, and, even when movies are terrible, I’m a big enough fan of Cage that I will pay to see him act. He does his job very well. And it might not be a total shock that he chose this film; Cage’s brother is a pastor.
I just hope the film doesn’t ruin Cage’s career, and I hope that it doesn’t give people the wrong impression about what the heart of Christianity is. I’m not saying that God can’t use this movie to influence people, but, frankly, I walked out of the theater disappointed.