Alex Russell, Miles Fisher, Zachary Knighton, Johanna Braddy, Christopher McDonald. Religious drama. Written by Michael B. Allen, Will Bakke. Directed by Will Bakke.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Desperate, broke, and out of ideas, four tuition-strapped college seniors start a fake charity in order to embezzle money from the Christian community.
PREVIEW REVIEW: Well, it’s not your father’s church movie. Here, the leads are seen drinking and heard swearing, and for the first 51 minutes of the film, they flim-flam godly folks with all the nefarious skill of the Ocean’s 11 protagonists. It would appear that the goal of the filmmaker is not to proselytize so much as to expose the weaknesses in today’s church worship formats while showing how easy it is to fleece the flock. There is merit to these revelations.
Maybe the most significant moment in the film concerning this age of incessant change is summed up by the following shot of a coliseum-sized gathering, as the lyrics to a song are shown overhead on giant screens, the name of its composer taking focal point:
That pretty well parodies the showbiz aspect of today’s Sunday morning congregational sing-a-long. Here, the praise leader is named Gabriel, an “artist” in his own mind. With the concert-like lighting illuminating his swaggering frame, and a grungy-dressed band to back him, it’s difficult to disassociate this worship leader from any secular performer nearing rock star status. He doesn’t twerk, thankfully, but this “praise” leader does everything else to draw attention to himself while under the pretense of glorifying the Creator. His main musical number is repeated over and over as if attempting to put attendees into a devotional trance.
While the filmmaker’s intent is more about taking a jab at “flashy church services” and self-important people who control those services, still, the praise/worship sequence deserves analysis. This style of music, labeled “contemporary” Christian music in the 1970s, was designed to appeal to those who had come to reject their parents’ traditions and any kind of formality in religious gatherings. Rebellion was thriving in our society and the dawning of the Age of Aquarius even invaded the church. Along with abandoning a dress code, this new musical fashion became a statement and took root. Soon, there were two worship services each Sunday morning, the first and more traditional was given to the “older” members, who could still wear their coats and ties and sing hymns (if they didn’t mind attending at 8:00am), while the 11 o’clock gathering was given over to a younger generation, who presumably needed more sleep.
As to this new style of music, a shallowness of lyric and an avoidance of melody have replaced biblically constructed and hummable hymns. (Given the notes as well as the words in old-time hymnals, people could even sing harmony way back when.) This update in the church songfest is somewhat understandable, as each generation wants their own sound, even when worshipping our Savior. But this praise/worship format has become the antithesis of that which once galvanized Sunday morning attendees. Evidently, ministers thought this appeasement to the young would woo them back to the church. Really? How’s that working out for you, pastors?
But I digress.
The cast does fine work (one actor looks and behaves like a young Tom Cruise - that’s okay, kid, just don’t let Cruise find out). Director Will Bakke holds our attention throughout with good pacing and camera work. And I congratulate the writers for taking a fresh approach to a faith-based film. And finally, while there’s no altar call in this production, the invitation is definitely there.
Disturbing, eye-opening, and necessary, Believe Me may be the most important film about church you’ll ever see. For along with its warning about the wolves among us, it also reminds us that there are people of faith who attempt to serve Jesus and our fellow man with personal and financial sacrifices.
Only the most liberal of churches would play this film in their congregational hall, what with the s-word used upon occasion and the snarky parodying of today’s church music format. But shown in a theater, Believe Me reminds us to always be subject to Jesus while being cautious of money-seeking ministries.
While I find value in this film, as it exposes dastardly deeds done in the name of Jehovah, I’m also aware of the film company’s touting tactics. On the film’s official website, there’s a promotional that reads: “Get Paid to Promote the Film.” Further down that page, we discover that T-shirts, just like those worn in the film, can be purchased. I’m not sure the film company gets the filmmaker’s message.