For Illinois fans and residents, such as myself, The Case for Christ offers a lot in the way of Chicago hallmarks, such as glimpses of the Michigan Avenue Chicago Tribune building, the Cook County Courthouse (at one time, even the county is referred to as "Crook County," a Chicago in-joke), and the Willow Creek Community Church, located in the South Barrington neighborhood. For journalism fans, the film offers quite a bit of a scoop on the hectic atmosphere and duties of a common journalist. And for Christians and enthusiastic embracers of Christian cinema, The Case for Christ does a great job at affirming beliefs and forgiving the foolishness of nonbelievers, at least those who eventually find their ways.
The Case for Christ bears a lot of thematic similarities to its brother in Christ God's Not Dead in the way that it attempts to ignite stirring intellectual debate rather than settling for predictable melodrama. The result is a film with certain appeal, but also certain issues when it comes to its prolific condescension to nonbelievers and skeptics and unnaturally written moments where proselytizing overpowers plot.
The film focuses on Lee Strobel, who worked as a Chicago Tribune beat reporter/journalist in the 1980s. A devout atheist and a man hellbent on living by indisputable facts brewed from hard evidence, Lee has struggled with his faith and set of beliefs but has both of which come into question when his wife (Erika Christensen) begins to adopt an interest in Christianity. Her sudden question of faith occurs when a random woman saves their daughter from choking at a local restaurant, and she only becomes more convinced of divine intervention when the woman claims that she was going to another restaurant but something directed her to another.
Lee, frustrated at his wife's recent detachment from reality and unwanted sympathy towards his ongoing skepticism, decides to go on an exhausting and unrelenting crusade against disproving the foundations of Christianity. In particular, Lee wants to debunk the resurrection of Jesus Christ, seeking out a medical doctor to tell him there's a possibility Jesus was still alive when taken off the cross, a psychologist to tell him that there's a chance that five-hundred people who witnessed the event were brainwashed or coerced into thinking Jesus was resurrected, and even a resurrection scholar who talks in circles.
The Case for Christ
Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway
7 April 2017
Steve's Grade: C-
The latter expert somehow ties the existence of gravity and his indifferent belief towards it to the idea that the event did take place, in addition some other convoluted statements regarding his annoyance with mosquitoes not mutually exclusive with his condemnation of their existence and some other run-on ideas that muddle whatever point he's trying to make.
There's also an archaeologist/historian that is seen with ultra-rare discoveries of ancient texts by Homer and John of the Bible just lying around in his cabinets, in addition to other priceless memorabilia that hangs on the unguarded, unrestricted walls of a generic Chicago building.
It's at these times in the film that The Case for Christshows it's very rough on the edges, so focused on making a point and driving home an idea that it loses itself in word salad and thoughts that race faster than the typing-fingers of screenwriter Brian Bird. It's so caught up on flagrant emotions and proving something that it forgets to captivate us or even question the kind of information we're getting, a major element of being a journalist, as Strobel should now.
Stobel is played by Mike Vogel, who is mostly good in the role. He has a great display of emotional power and gravitas during a scene involving his distant and often cold father, a scene that should resonate with anyone who has had a relative in their family they wished would be more expressive and loving towards them. Moments like these prove where The Case for Christ's heart lies as a movie. It shows that it's a film striving to be meaningful and impacting despite ending up as frequently crass and ill-conceived as other members of its congregation.
Consider the Lee Stobel character, who is miserably unlikable here in the way that he demeans and abuses his wife and condescends his way through life, be it to his wife or his bosses. This isn't because he's a flawed person with some seriously troublesome character traits, though, this is because of his secular nature, something that's shamefully alluded to throughout the film. His nights of heavy-drinking that show him groveling to comprehend research and reach a finite conclusion are because he hasn't accepted Jesus into his life. Most illogical.
The Case for Christ is sporadically compelling and contemplative. As I stated, it also helps if you're into journalism dramas and the journalistic process, as one of the key subplots of the film revolves around Stobel trying to crack the case on a gang informant who allegedly shot a police officer. Oddly enough, the film works best when it's illustrating an actual story, showing, at the very least, competence as a film concerned with newspaper drama. What it settles for, ultimately, is a lukewarm example of what happens when conclusions are drawn from short-term, fallible evidence and situational convenience that wraps such a lofty case up too cleanly for its own good - the very antithesis of what it and Vogel's character claim to be working against. Call it a bad film, I call it fake news.