Sunday, September 18, 2011

[SIFF11] Salvation Boulevard

I am the Prophet!

I suppose the programmers at SIFF had thought this film, with its star power in Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly and Marisa Tomei could probably pull in the crowds, but it was a bet got wrong with only a handful turning up for the screening at Lido 4, which seats hundreds. Maybe it's also because of the subject matter in its handling of religion, since the principal antagonist happens to be a man of religion, that may have detracted believers. Whatever the case is, it's a film to be seen if only to watch how director George Ratliff, whose previous film was about the devil in a child Joshua, tackles a similar theme this time with the wolf in sheep's clothing, but laced with plenty of black humour.

Greg Kinnear stars as Carl Venderveer, a born again Christian thanks to his fanatically religious wife Gwen (Connelly) and her dad Joe (Ciaran Hinds), congregation of the charismatic evangelist Dan Day (Brosnan), a renowned preacher with many bestsellers to his name, though with followers like that it's not hard to not understand why his books shoot to the top of the bestsellers chart. We first meet Dan in a public debate with another bestselling author, atheist Dr Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris), where the first few minutes were engaging stuff, the kind where you put a cat and a dog in a room, and wait to observe massive fireworks due to differing beliefs.

Invited by the Professor to have a bonding session after their public debate, Dan brings along Carl since he had used the latter to resounding success as an example during one of his rebuttals, and here's where motivations are clearly peeled away to show one's inner, rotten core. There's nothing like profits to line their pockets, especially when Blaylock proposes that he and Dan join forces to write the mother of all books, if not for Dan to accidentally shoot Blaylock in the head from a pistol, thereby making him a killer, with Carl as the unwitting witness. That is of course until Dan Day starts to use his street smarts, his crookedness and basically kneeling down before the devil to pin everything on Carl, with help coming from blind faith believer Jerry Hobson (Jim Gaffigan) to do his dirty work.

There's clearly no mincing of the words here when in George Ratliff (also the director) and Douglas Stone's screenplay, based on the novel by Larry Beinhart, where Dan Day is truly the false prophet and wolf in sheep's clothing, almost always ready to pounce on opportunities for money, flesh, and to keep his reputation pristine. Getting rid of Carl serves many points, which for starters means a chance to get close to Carl's wife Gwen whom he clearly has the hots for, if not for her father to continuously pester him to implement an idea in his up and coming faith-based real estate community (ka-ching the cash registers go). Pierce Brosnan plays this role with aplomb, and with his suave good looks it's easy to understand why his female congregation will all go crazy for him.

It's a tale of what anyone would do in order to ensure self-preservation, and Greg Kinnear's role as Carl, the man on the run as he's being accused and character assassinated, making it worst with family not believing him save for his daughter Angie (Isabelle Fuhrman of Orphan fame). In a way what happens to Carl en route to clearly his name is nothing more than a higher supreme being protecting him at every step of his misadventures, and having a sense of humour while protecting him, such as putting Marisa Tomei's bit role of a hippie security guard in his way and clearly nursing a crush from a long time ago.

Mistakes get made, more supporting characters get thrown in the mix especially when a Mexican mobster sees Carl as a conduit to blackmail Dan Day, and everything just leads to a mess, though narratively George Ratcliff has a clear, precise handling of situations that just makes this one fine, entertaining film even though it does get a little heavy in the opening debate (best scene of the film) as it draws some parallels to real life situations where those in power and commanding an audience, should they be crooked, will spell the doom and gloom for their followers if only the latter can open their eyes and minds and not believe everything verbatim and blindly. But I guess that's why it's called Faith. Recommended!

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