Lee and Leslie Strobel’s world is turned upside down when their daughter nearly loses her life. She is saved by a woman who claims she was told to be there by Jesus, much to the indifference of atheistic Lee.
Leslie, however, begins pursuing Christianity and eventually becomes a Christian, creating problems between her and her husband. Lee then begins using his journalistic skills on a quest to dismantle the Christian faith to keep his family intact, but eventually finds his own faith in the deity he set out to disprove.
Based on the autobiography of the same name, “The Case for Christ” is directed by Jon Gunn, who has directed several award-winning films within the Christian film industry, including “Like Dandelion Dust” and “My Date with Drew.” This gives “The Case for Christ” an immediate leg up on its colleagues of the genre, as many Christian-based films struggle to find positive feedback if they manage to break through the glass ceiling of mainstream viewership.
“The Case for Christ” will be reviewed within the context of its genre. Because there is no one standard to the subjective medium of film, reviewing movies by comparable terms is the preferred (and logical) approach; it’s what allows two drastically different films, like “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Godfather Part II,” to go down in history with the same legendary critical acclaim status. So, in that regard, how does “The Case for Christ” compare to its Christian-themed contemporaries? The pseudo–biopic stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Unlike most “Christian propaganda” films, “The Case for Christ” takes time to develop all of its players as real characters. Mike Vogel and Erika Christensen play Lee and Leslie Strobel, respectively, and both are excellent. Leslie’s turn from atheism to Christianity feels genuine, and the circumstances surrounding her shift in beliefs ground the film, adding real drama and stakes as opposed to the lighthearted cheese that usually plagues similar films. Much of the focus is devoted to Lee and his militant quest to unravel Christianity, and his character’s motives are handled extremely well. Vogel’s performance is fantastic, perfectly conveying the struggles of a man who believes he is losing his family to some psychotic cult.
In fact, the film proves its worth over other Christian-themed films by showcasing the stereotypically antagonistic counter to Christianity in a surprising and respectful way. Instead of portraying Lee’s atheistic beliefs as villainous, the film sets him up as a relatable and sympathetic character, a man trying to save his marriage from something he doesn’t understand. Gunn also sets up an interesting dynamic between Lee and Leslie’s marriage, using the “church is the bride of Christ” metaphor to incite jealousy from Lee, with Lee even stating, “You are cheating on me with Christ.” This is an interesting dynamic not usually showcased in on-screen relationships, and adds a new layer of motivation and vulnerability to Lee.
Even with the new concepts not usually explored in similar films, there are still plenty of traditional elements expected from Christian films to please the target audience. The evidences for and against Christ and His resurrection are explored in full, with a sympathetic perspective that keeps the film from being as preachy as others. By showing the world through Lee’s eyes and crafting him as a relatable person, his struggle is understandable. Even when heated debates arise, the film avoids bludgeoning audiences over the head with a one-sided message by allowing Lee to have his victories, even though he often questions his results soon after.
However, the film still unintentionally evokes the odd feelings usually associated with hearing God’s name (and religion in general) spoken in casual conversation in film. Perhaps this speaks to modern Christianity as a whole in our hesitation to speak confidently in conversation about God without the words “Oh my” haphazardly splattered in front of it. Regardless, the uneasy vibes soon subside, and the film refrains from becoming an unrelenting religious cheese fest with carefully crafted dialogue.
Ultimately, “The Case for Christ” is about as well put together as one could ask of a religious film. The cinematography is surprisingly professional, and the film’s overall tone and message remain constant throughout, while its unique spin on many established religious tropes keep it interesting and memorable.
“The Case for Christ,” surprisingly, scores a well-earned four out of five Garrett stars. With a runtime of 112 minutes, the film is rated PG for thematic elements including medical depictions of crucifixion and incidental smoking.