12/04/23 22:12 Filed in: 2023
Directed by: Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle
Starring: Joel Courtney
Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!
Based on true events, Jesus Revolution chronicles the early days of a spiritual movement that started in California and swept across the U.S. in the early 70s.
The film opens with aging pastor, Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), shepherding aging parishioners; they sit like statues, uninspired by his passionless homily. While watching TV at home, Chuck makes a negative remark about the sea of longhaired youth at a protest. His daughter says he shouldn’t pass judgment on the hippies. The next day, she brings one home to confront her father with his own prejudice. The Jesus-looking hippie is named Lonnie (Jonathan Roumie).
Lonnie invites his friends over to Chuck’s house, and soon, the church is overrun with the barefoot brigade. On the plus side, Lonnie and his lot breathe life into the church, bringing lively music, excitement and a hunger for the truth to the calcified congregation. Now Chuck is faced with a difficult decision: should he embrace these colorful newcomers and risk losing his members, or send the hippies packing and return to business as usual?
The second word in title might give you a hint as to what Chuck did.
Not only does the movie center on an inflection point in our nation’s history, it also dramatizes a major turning point in the lives of three prominent ministers—Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel, evangelist Lonnie Frisbee and Greg Laurie (played by Joel Courtney) of Harvest Christian Fellowship. Each of these men has made an indelible impact on the way countless Protestant churches operate, serve and worship today.
Co-directed by Jon Erwin (I Can Only Imagine) and Brent McCorkle, Jesus Revolution perfectly captures the look and feel of the late 60s and early 70s. From the shaggy coifs and grubby duds to the psychedelic “Magic Bus,” every frame of the film feels true to the period. Another layer of authenticity is the washed out, “old film stock” look; a visual style that’s effective in many of the movie’s outdoor scenes, particularly those shot at the “Pirate’s Cove” location.
The movie boasts many fine young actors, particularly Courtney and Anna Grace Barlow, who plays Cathe, Greg’s girlfriend. Headlining the cast is Grammer, who deftly negotiates the emotions of a man caught between two worlds: traditional Christianity and the new movement embraced by the youth of the era. Kudos to Grammer for choosing to be involved with this project and for being so outspoken about his faith. Many have been cancelled for less.
The other veteran actor in the movie is Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who plays Greg’s mother in a minor and fairly unsympathetic role. Of course, Roumie is a major draw for many in the audience since he plays Jesus in “The Chosen.” Tough his wardrobe is different here, Roumie retains his messianic appearance from the Biblical series. However, fans of the series might be thrown for a loop the first time they hear him speak.
Aside from its terrific cast, historical accuracy and excellent production elements, the movie has a lot to say about our culture, both then and now.
For a Christian film, there’s a surprising surfeit of drug content here, although most of the drugs are mentioned, not shown. Speaking of his generation, Lonnie says, “Drugs were a quest…for God.” Though many claimed “acid would save the world,” it was a lie; there was “still a void.” He admits that his contemporaries were “searching for all the right things in all the wrong places.”
This highlights one of the movie’s main themes—the search for truth. The youth of the 60s and 70s were tired of being lied to by parents and a corrupt government, and turned to sex, drugs and rock and roll to try and escape a world gone mad.
Ironically, what the youth of that period were searching for, “Peace and Love,” are hallmarks of Christianity (Galatians 5:22-23). Observing the similarities between the rallying cry of the countercultural youth of the day and the mission of the church, Chuck’s daughter wisely asks him, “Don’t you want the same thing?”
In one scene, Cathe says, “What if there is no truth?” Greg picks up on her reference to one of the popular philosophies espoused by Allen Ginsberg. Greg rejects this notion: “Some things are absolutely true.” Even before his conversion to Christianity, Greg believed that there’s one objective truth.
Chuck’s wife Kay (Julia Campbell) makes this profound statement, “The truth is always quiet; the lies are always loud.” She buttons up her point with, “The truth is simple.”
I sincerely hope our politicians are reading this.
Jesus Revolution is much more than a religious biopic. It’s a heartfelt drama that also has comedic and romantic elements. It’s a story of renewal and redemption. A tale of faith and friendship.
It’s been said that with God there are no coincidences. So then, it’s no coincidence that just before the release of Jesus Revolution, a revival broke out at Asbury University in Kentucky. Perhaps what’s started there will be the beginning of a new Jesus Revolution. And considering the fact that this movie opened the same weekend as Cocaine Bear, boy do we need it!
Rating: 3 out of 4