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Solid 'Case for Christ' offers a journalist's story of personal conversion
Haley Rosenwasser, Erika Christensen and Mike Vogel in The Case for Christ. - photo by Josh Terry
THE CASE FOR CHRIST 3 stars Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway; PG (thematic elements including medical descriptions of crucifixion and incidental smoking); Jordan Landing and Jordan Commons

You could be forgiven for cringing at a title like The Case for Christ, given the track record of many faith-based films. But even though director Jon Gunns film still caters to a niche audience, it manages to sidestep a lot of the genres pitfalls.

The Case for Christ is based on the real-life conversion story of former Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel, who is now a best-selling author and pastor. Strobel was just coming into his own in 1980, fresh off a major investigation of the Ford Pinto controversy when he decided to apply his journalism skills to a very different topic.

Strobel (played by Mike Vogel) and his family go out for a celebratory dinner one night when his daughter Alison (Haley Rosenwasser) nearly chokes on a gum ball. A local nurse (L. Scott Caldwell) is also dining at the same restaurant, and after saving the child, she credits a spiritual prompting shed been given to eat at that particular restaurant.

The encounter lights a spark of faith in Strobels wife, Leslie (Erika Christensen), who soon embraces Christianity and becomes a regular churchgoer. This is alarming to Strobel, a lifelong atheist, and he decides to investigate the roots of Christianity as a way of helping Leslie come to her secular senses.

All this sends Strobel on a journey of reconciliation as he tries to apply his journalism training to what he sees as a psychological delusion. His focus is on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, reasoning that if you take away the resurrection, the faith collapses.

Strobels efforts take him around the country to visit various experts, such as a medical doctor (Dr. Alexander Metherell, played by Tom Nowicki) and a reputed psychologist (Roberta Waters, played by Faye Dunaway) who have investigated certain aspects of Christs Resurrection. At work he relies on the guidance of his mentor, fellow atheist Ray Nelson (Brett Rice), balanced against the input of his co-worker Kenny London (Mike Pniewski), a believer.

Strobels off-the-books investigation happens while hes doing a story on a local gang member, on trial for the alleged shooting of a Chicago police officer. As you might imagine, the twists and turns of that investigation prove vital to his personal pursuit.

Strobels cinematic journey from skeptic to believer may not win many agnostic hearts in the audience, but The Case for Christ keep the expository exploration in check while focusing on the human side of Strobels story. Several faith-based films have leaned hard on lengthy onscreen discussions to outline spiritual arguments, but Case for Christ gets its message across best as it explores Strobels strained relationship with his wife, Leslie. It also helps that, unlike in recent faith-based efforts like Gods Not Dead 2, Case for Christ is guided by a fleshed-out antagonist, rather than a two-dimensional approximation.

The Case for Christ still has its weaknesses, and even the faithful might feel that a secular inquiry into the evidence of Christs Resurrection is kind of missing the point. But as a film, it is a sure step in a positive direction.

The Case for Christ is rated PG for thematic elements, including medical descriptions of crucifixion and incidental smoking; running time: 112 minutes.
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