This compelling drama about journalist Lee Strobel, an atheist reporter who set out to disprove Christ’s Resurrection when his wife became a believer and wound up instead authoring the massive bestseller “The Case for Christ,” is a surprisingly well-made faith-based film that balances his investigation with touching personal drama. And talk about perfect timing during Holy Week!
There has been an explosion in Christian-themed films over the past decade since Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” made more than $600 million at the box office, proving there is an audience hungry for films about faith. One of the most successful was “God’s Not Dead,” which came seemingly out of nowhere to be a big hit despite often seeming preachy and heavy-handed in its storyline of a Christian college student who fights for his faith against an atheist college professor who declares that God doesn’t exist.
The studio behind that film, Pureflix, is back this week with “The Case for Christ,” a much more compelling and subtler film that tells the story of Lee Strobel, a top investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune in the 1970s and ‘80s who was a passionate skeptic about the existence of God. When his wife Leslie, a lifelong agnostic, suddenly embraced Christianity, he convinced his editors to let him launch an investigation to disprove the Resurrection truly occurred – only to find that the evidence could point in no other direction.
The movie opens with a montage of 1970s-era home-movie clips showing Lee (Mike Vogel) and Leslie (Erika Christensen) meeting as teens and marrying at 19, ready to take on the world. Lee’s doing just that at the Tribune, working to prove that a police informer named James Dixon (Renell Gibbs) shot an allegedly heroic cop. Lee’s content life nearly takes a tragic turn one night while dining out with his family, when his daughter Alison (Haley Rosenwasser) nearly chokes to death in a restaurant. A devoutly Christian nurse named Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell) saves her life, and when Leslie goes to thank her, Alfie tells her that she felt that God led her to be there that night.
Shaken by this thought, Leslie agrees to go to church with Alfie, and finds herself drawn to belief for the first time in her life. Lee scoffs at this revelation, calling her crazy, and decides to debunk and angrily asks his editor for the right to do an investigation disproving the resurrection of Christ— a story the editor knows is controversial, but allows him to engage in.
He meets with a theologian who shows him that Jesus is cross-referenced in other ancient texts including Homer’s “Iliad,” and informs him that more than 5,000 authenticated original-era copies of the New Testament have been found— more than four times as many as that classic Greek work. He also has a fascinating encounter with a pathologist who backs an American Medical Association study that explored the effects of crucifixion on the human body, showing that it was impossible to survive it under natural circumstances.
As the evidence mounts in favor of Christ, Lee also finds that he has unfairly jumped to conclusions in an article that left Dixon with no choice but to plead guilty and go to prison even though he is actually innocent. Faced with his dual challenges to his core beliefs, Lee is forced to soul-search for a way to admit his wrongs and set things right again.
“Case” blends these two investigations together effectively to create suspense even in a film where the title basically gives away the ending, and it offers viewers several strong arguments along the way that can help in any debate over the truth of Christ’s story. But it also has a touching human aspect to it, as the film shows the incredible strain Lee’s determination to prove Leslie wrong has on their marriage.
Lee also has to contend with his own conflicted relationship with his father (Robert Forster), who was distant to him as a child but is wishing to make amends now. These personal conflicts lend an emotional weight that takes this beyond being just a procedural investigation, and the movie is the richer for it.
These emotional dilemmas help turn Strobel’s best-selling book of the same name, which focused on his investigation into the Resurrection itself, into a personal journey that is perfectly timed for all who seek to know the truth about Christ. With moving performances, fun period touches throughout with pagers, corded landline phones, and Lee’s ridiculously shaggy hairdo, and a powerful message of faith, “The Case for Christ” makes a strong case for visiting the theatre during this holiest of seasons.
Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station www.radiotitans.com in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site Movieguide.org, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.
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