Jesus Revolution continues the trend of well-made religious films with convincing acting, great cinematography, and a heart-warming story, even if it still has some annoying tropes. At the same time, it touches on unique and controversial topics about Christianity and those involved in it.
I have to say, I was genuinely surprised with Jesus Revolution. I mean, it’s a good film, much like the ones before it from the same creators, the Erwin Brothers (well, Brent McCorkle collaborated with Jon Erwin this time around). But, what was really unexpected for me, as a viewer, was how it tackled certain topics in the religious realm pertaining to the way God uses people. I’ll go into a bit more detail down the line. Jesus Revolution, much like I Can Only Imagine, I Still Believe, and American Underdog, still has annoying tropes that seem to be a pattern in these kinds of films (cheesy dialogue and line delivery that doesn’t always land being among those). At its core though, it has convincing and believable performances, especially from Kelsey Grammer as Pastor Chuck Smith and Jonathan Roumie as the hippie evangelist, Lonnie Frisbee, great cinematography, and a number memorable scenes that, at least for myself, left me with plenty of chills and goosebumps.
The first half of the film is the highlight for me. It perfectly sets the stage and tone of what this movie is all about; coming to the realization of religion, in many cases, being toxic and those involved being unwilling to accept people as they are. Sure, as a Christian, the Bible is what we believe and it’s obviously clear about what God’s standards are and how people should live out their lives. At the same time, only God can touch people’s hearts and genuinely change who they are. We can only do so much and condemning a specific demographic rather than embracing who they are will only push them away further. Loving someone and accepting them doesn’t always mean you have to agree with them, and I feel the film perfectly captures the essence of this. There’s a specific scene where Pastor Chuck meets Lonnie Frisbee for the first time at his home and they’re sitting in the dining room. Pastor Chuck clearly already had a preconceived notion about him and his group of people, the hippies. But, as Lonnie begins to plead his case and explain how there are so many of them reaching out for God and how the church is constantly closing their doors on them, you can see how Pastor Chuck’s heart begins to change almost instantaneously. I mean, the way the entire scene is shot, how it focuses in on the characters and the dialogue, and how the musical score mellows down and further compliments the entire scene is masterful. It’s safe to say, what transpires after this divine meeting is history and we get to see it come to life for the rest of the movie.
As memorable, moving, and light-hearted as the first half is, the second half of the movie definitely takes a darker and unsettling turn. Sure, it still has plenty of cheerful moments, but the harsh reality about religious leaders being imperfect human beings definitely takes center stage. Seeing, in many ways, Lonnie Frisbee’s fall from grace because of his ego, at least how the movie portrays it to be, left me quite uncomfortable since, to this day, it’s a very common thing for religious leaders to make mistakes. At the end of the day, it’s our fault for putting certain people on the same pedestal as God himself. The reality is we all have a sinful nature and when a famous pastor, or even our local pastor, slip up, we’re inclined to feel a certain way about it because of the position they’re in. Speaking more on Lonnie Frisbee, it seems he got extremely caught up in the spectacle of it all and made it more about himself rather than God performing miracles and works through him. Again, this tends to happen quite a bit nowadays, and it’s been happening for awhile. The film never really touches on everything he did and what ultimately pushed him away from the faith before reconciling, which I feel is a missed opportunity since it could’ve explained things a bit more rather than simply using the storyline they went with. Then again, this is a specific kind of movie and it may have been a bit too controversial.
On the flipside, there’s the opposite side of the spectrum with Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) and Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow). Both were young, without direction, and were looking for a place where they belong. They were searching for something to give their life meaning rather than the drugs they were taking, which were leaving them with a void nothing but God can fill. Out of all the people God touched through the “Jesus Revolution” with Pastor Chuck and Lonnie Frisbee, Greg Laurie and Cathe are the ones who have probably made the most out of it and have continued this movement of touching people’s lives. Courtney and Barlow had fantastic chemistry together and seeing where they started to where they are now was special. Say what you will about Lonnie Frisbee and his lifestyle, but ultimately, God did use him and the reality is, he can use anyone. At its core, this is what the movie is all about.
I’m glad Jesus Revolution is continuing the trend of well-made, faith-based feature films. Aside from the important message, this movie is beautifully shot, well-written, and impressively performed. Many films from the past, unfortunately, didn’t have this luxury. I’m hoping future films follow the same pattern since, as a believer, these kind of movies should be made for all to see. Of course, they can improve in various departments, but I believe it’s important well-made, quality films continue to be made in order for these stories to reach new audiences. The potential for these kinds of movies to touch so many lives is there. Even if you aren’t a believer or don’t consider yourself religious, I truly feel you’ll be surprised with this film. Regardless of who you are or what you’ve done, there’s a place for you.