Billy Dickson's directorial debut Believe may not be as theologically driven as some of its like-minded counterparts of contemporary independent Christian cinema, but even on that basis alone, it doesn't instill much hope for the genre. Its focus is more on class relations than any film of the genre I've seen before, yet the problem its lead character, while unfortunately stuck in a situation that's working against him, he's an arrogant character that is more than partially to blame for the failing state of his company. And with that, the uplifting ending Believepredictably tacks on isn't as nice of a ribbon as you'd like to think either.
But I'm getting way ahead of myself. The film revolves around automobile-factory owner Matthew Peyton (Ryan O'Quinn), who is in dire financial straits with his company in Grundy, Virginia. His unionized workers are going on strike, with adamant encouragement from their boss and the Grundy town-judge Tom (David DeLuise) finding ways for Matthew to trip up and make mistakes. His closest confidant, his accountant Albert (Kevin Sizemore from last year's Woodlawn), says there's no way to solve this entire debacle without selling the company. As part of the trust given to him from his grandfather, Matthew is required to put on a Christmas festival/parade at the end of the year, something he always winds up taking a loss on for his lack of monetary compensation in addition to liability insurance and other things being so high.
Ryan O'Quinn, Shawnee Smith, Danielle Nicolet
2 December 2016
Steve's Grade: D+
He's worked himself into a corner, and his workers are infuriated to see him living in such a lavish home with a beautiful BMW when they are struggling to pay their mortgages and feed their families. After he's mugged and his car set ablaze by some of his employees, Matthew is taken in by a spunky kid named Clarence (Issac Ryan Brown) and his mother Sharon (Danielle Nicolet), who live day-to-day in a ramshackle apartment complex with no central heating and no telephone. Clarence tries to inspire some sort of hope in his mother and Matthew by saying that he wants to play the angel Gabriel in the Christmas festival's play, despite him not knowing that the festival likely won't happen this year. Matthew sees life on the other side during his brief stay, which inspires him to turn his factory into a place of refuge during this brutally cold holiday season, which also turns into a potential opportunity to get his company running again.
This is one of those films that incessantly keeps telling its main character, who is always on the edge of a cliff with his finances and personal problems, to "keeping believing" or "never lose hope," meanwhile hope and faith aren't valid currencies for the IRS nor are they things you can use to feed a family. But nonetheless, "you have to believe," so says Clarence, arguably the most grating and borderline-insufferable child in a movie since Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Issac Ryan Brown isn't so bad, but his character is so overdone, running around as if thinks he's in a cartoon, racing through all his lines that inspired pure exhaustion in myself early on that never let up.
But when it comes to Matthew, his stern, cantankerous attitude makes him just about as unlikable, not to mention his justifications in court sounding like every other businessman who has fallen on hard times but still so desperately claims to understand the proletariat. Here's a film that tries to pretend it understands the working and middle class, when it really shows the cycle they're stuck in and how no one is willing to aid them in any meaningful way. Grundy, Virginia is apparently a town a lot like where I live in Illinois, where the recession hit businesses hard, while high taxes and crooked business practices cripple any kind of startup businesses from forming. Despite the flowery and easy-to-swallow ending looking inspirational enough, it's just a scapegoat for all the problems that still aren't solved. The union boss and his goons are still corrupt and will probably not be adequately punished, and the townspeople's bills will be no easier to pay tomorrow than they were today.
Believe isn't as nauseating as the alarmist political thriller AmeriGeddon this year, but it's nowhere near as human as I'm Not Ashamed. It continues to prove my point that you can't operate a successful film when your themes are comprised of buzzwords and their justifications and explanations are riddled with buzzwords as well. This is especially disheartening given the mostly solid performances here, particularly from Danielle Nicolet, who is extremely tender in her role. If the goal was to find a silver-lining in all this madness, I think I found it in her performance.