Distributed by Pureflix Entertainment
Opening Release Date: March 21st 2014
Reviewed by Jonathan Andre
God’s Not Dead– Starring Shane Harper, Kevin Sorbo, David A. R. White, Dean Cain, Cory Oliver, Trisha LaFache, Willie Robertson, Newsboys
God’s Not Dead is possibly the most talked about Christian movie since…well maybe since ever. To make a movie about the topic of God in an age where Hollywood and the media have embraced the contrary seems like a big feat, and one that’ll cause all types of reactions, from praise and adulation to utter disgust. This is what the reaction was for the new PureFlix movie, starring actor Kevin Sorbo (known for his days as Hercules in a 1990s TV show) and Shane Harper (who has recently acted in various shows on The Disney Channel). With special cameos from Duck Dynasty stars Willie and Korrie Robertson, and the CCM pop/rock group Newsboys; God’s Not Dead took to the theatres in March this year, with results being a success commercially and a mixed bag critically.
To show a movie about God, and people’s beliefs in standing up for Him, sadly only appeals to a certain demographic. I know that the directors, writers and actors have the best intentions, but disappointingly, God’s Not Dead is a great movie for the already committed Christian, or the seeker genuinely on his way to considering whether the Christian gospel is for them or not. Anyone else will probably see this as a popular money-grab of a situation (considering there have been many faith based movies that released in 2014, from Son of God, Heaven is For Real and Mom’s Night Out, to Noah and Persecuted; as well as upcoming faith-based movies Hope Bridge, Left Behind and Exodus: Gods and Kings), and maybe they are right. Yet regardless of the motives of the movie itself, we are seeing something happening that hasn’t probably occurred in a long time through any faith based movie- lives are being impacted and changed. Whether it is through the Newsboys songs or even the storyline itself, the movie is certainly leaving a mark on both the Christian industry and mainstream alike.
So, what’s the film about? What is it about the film that makes it earn more than $60 million considering that it only had a $2 million budget? Ready for spoilers? Want to avert your eyes if you want to watch the film, but haven’t already? Said yes and no to the two previous questions respectively? Good. Now on with the story-line: Shane Harper plays Josh Wheaton, a Christian student in a college who enrols in a philosophy class taught by Professor Jeffrey Radison (played brilliantly by Hollywood actor Kevin Sorbo). With Professor Radison trying to establish in the first lesson that God is dead (for the purposes of the class) by allowing the students to write ‘God is dead’ on a piece of paper and giving the signed paper to him, Josh however doesn’t comply. Instead, he is challenged to prove the opposite- that God isn’t dead, in front of the class, within the last 20 minutes of the lesson across three lecture classes. Throughout the movie, we see Josh struggle in his dilemma to debate the professor, while also trying to keep his own faith in tact as he tries to dodge some questions and answers others that is directed to his faith.
As with any movie, there are always interwoven stories that come to a climax later on during the film, yet seem to be disconnected from each other when the movie starts. Stories about a young Muslim-turned-Christian dealing with her own faith, yet also not wanting to displease her religious father, a pastor and his African friend having car trouble, and having faith in God in spite of their own circumstances, a successful young career-woman finding out she has cancer and learning to deal with the consequences it brings, and a young woman’s struggle of being ‘unequally yoked’ in a relationship with a non-believer; are all woven into this central story that brings the theme to light- is God dead, and if He isn’t, how do we deal with circumstances here on Earth in light of this?
Distributed through PureFlix, it’s almost criminal in any Christian movie not to have David A.R. White involved in the project somehow. David plays the pastor in God’s Not Dead, and does it well, often providing us with comic relief as he anxiously worries about his car troubles, while his friend tries to reassure him of God’s greater plan in their being stuck and not travelling to their desired destination. Without giving anything away, them staying resulted in some big major life altering events- all for the better as God weaved together intersecting storylines and used both the pastor and his friend as catalysts for transformation, comfort and encouragement in various storylines. A cameo by CCM pop/rock band the Newsboys, and Willie and Korrie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, and you ought to have at least a certain amount of appeal to viewers. Nevertheless, to have a $2 million budget deliver over $60 million in revenue is nothing short of a miracle.
So there you have it- the plotline of the movie. And I’m sure even if you haven’t seen the movie, maybe you would, even with the spoiler alerts that you perhaps have read even with the warning message before (because frankly, who stops reading when it says ‘warning- spoilers ahead’?). Nevertheless, God’s Not Dead is likened to…well let’s just say that the movie isn’t really like anything within the Hollywood industry- because frankly, they don’t really talk about God that way. Let’s just say that with the constant influx of Christian movies within the last few years, from What If, Courageous, In the Blink of an Eye and Grace Unplugged, to Blue Like Jazz, October Baby, The Grace Card and To Save a Life; God’s Not Dead has probably created the most buzz, excitement, intrigue and interest of all the aforementioned movies put together. Such interest always comes when the topic is ‘God’, even though much of Hollywood and the media are anti-anything that is beyond ourselves.
Josh Wheaton probably represents the typical young Christian who is unashamed about his beliefs in God. Played quite well by Shane Harper (who I knew nothing about prior to this movie, but now know that he is a committed Christian, and probably one of the very few committed young Christians in Hollywood), we are met with a character that stakes it all on the line- his grades and even his girlfriend, for the debate/argument with his philosopher professor. Looking at this scenario, while it could be farfetched for universities around the world to convince a whole group of students to simply say ‘God is dead’ on paper, the scenario does present itself- would I be able to handle the class and present my case when I refuse to succumb to aligning myself with those who believe in God never existing?
Overall the acting was ok, and with hardly many A-list actors, you’d expect the acting department to come up short a little bit. Nevertheless, with stellar performances from Kevin and David, as well as the Newsboys with their performances of ‘The King is Coming’ and ‘God’s Not Dead’ at the end, the movie is well worth it, even if it is only used as an evangelism tool and something to make viewers talk about their own mortality, what comes after and whether there is a God or not. It was very nice to have Newsboys sing “God’s Not Dead” in its entirety- at least we hear the song that declares and proclaims the very thing that this movie is championing.
While I felt like the story was rushed towards the end, and the movie 5-10 minutes short of what I reckon it could’ve been; the movie still made a great impact in my heart. No, it’s not Hollywood quality, nor is it anything like Saving Mr Banks, Frozen, The Fighter, The Blind Side, Toy Story 3 or Inception, great movies from years gone by that also had powerful meanings and messages to them. Still, despite being overt in parts, and the cheesiness of how Josh Wheaton screams at his lecturer saying ‘why do you hate God?’ (honestly, do people do that nowadays during university?); what God’s Not Dead presents is a movie that is real, in all its faults, as it presents a message that is in fact timeless as it is fundamentally necessary to address.
God’s Not Dead is probably not for everyone. Some people may love it, some may abhor it, while others may just watch it because the next guy is. Regardless, the movie left me with a satisfying feeling, and when you look at the credits and see all the cases in universities around America where students won lawsuits against their professors on the grounds of pressuring individuals to deny their faith in class, you’d probably know and respect why the film was made in the first place. The concept is good, the acting was good (with what was given), and even the Newsboys at the end was a nice touch. Yet if you want my honest opinion, I reckon that as much good intentions as there was with the movie, it felt for me a little too predictable. Predictability isn’t a bad thing, yet with movies, you want the audience to be engaged and asking questions all the way through. Frankly this didn’t happen for me.
Despite my mini-rant, I ought to say that as a whole (from an objective standpoint), God’s Not Dead will impact a lot of lives, despite it not being universally liked. I would recommend it to anyone questioning their own faith, or wondering if there’s more to life out there than living, sleeping, working, eating or breathing. It would be a good idea to watch the trailer first, and to hopefully not be put off by the Rotten Tomatoes score (17%)- that’s just one person’s opinion, and if you’re interested, you ought to check it out for yourself.
So therefore, should you watch the movie, regardless of its ratings on various movie sites? Depends if you enjoy Christian movies and the particular type of genre or not. Nevertheless, God’s Not Dead has something to say to a wide variety of people, regardless of whether you come to this movie with a preconceived idea of it or not. Overall, the movie is comparable to a lot of Christian movies out there with a strong biblical undertone- maybe akin to Grace Unplugged or October Baby. Not sure if that is saying anything to anyone, but I hope through this film ‘review’ I can bring moviegoers to a more informed decision when it comes to God’s Not Dead.
If you have seen the movie, let us know how it has impacted you. Which mini-storyline in the film impacted you the most? What elements of the movie reminded you of something either God is telling you about yourself or Himself? Let us know in the comments.