Nationally acclaimed evangelist John Luther is the last obstacle in the way of sweeping religious reform in the States. When a U.S. Senator and Luther's own supporters abduct and frame him in the murder of an innocent teenage girl, an unprecedented era of persecution is unleashed. Out on personal recognizance, Luther escapes police surveillance in search of the truth. And suddenly, a once-normal life is targeted by a team of ex-military operatives who wage a relentless campaign to eliminate the incriminating evidence. As evangelist turned fugitive, Luther vows to expose anyone involved with or profiting from the girl's murder; a mission that brings him face-to-face with the coming storm of persecution that will threaten the entire Christian community in America.
The current crop of movies made by Christians for Christians seem to exist on another plain of reality. Persecuted, as its title implies, focuses on the subject of faith being under attack. But rather than take aim at crucial areas of the globe that still breed a deadly level of religious persecution, it’s a matter of first world affairs for a movie that’s more hokey thriller than societal commentary. It whips up propaganda and hysteria about the Christian plight in America to create what is essentially the crazy religious-fueled version of The Fugitive.
The movie plays on the ludicrous idea that televangelist John Luther (James Remar) would be a major celebrity of television and a key component in politics. The family man becomes the target of Senator Donald Harrison (Bruce Davison) after refusing to support his Faith and Fairness bill, which would apparently make the bill go through. John is then framed for the rape and murder of a teenage girl. He awakens the night after being knocked out by the senator’s goons to discover the media circus that has sprung up. Now on the run from the FBI, its up to him and his faithfully devoted family and friends to uncover the scandalous cover up against him.
But what exactly is this Faith and Fairness bill that makes Senator Harrison resort to such dirty tactics? It’s kept incredibly vague and seems to suggest that all religions would be presented in an equal presence. If this is true, the bill doesn’t sound as evil as it’s made out to be. But the bottom line is that it means Christianity’s influence will be reduced in some unexplained way. The Senator and the President (played up as one of the worst Clinton parodies) ring their hands in a sinister fashion for this bill since their end goal appears to ultimately be an attack on the Christian religion. Luther is the victim of their assault as he struggles to both clear his name and maintain his spirituality. With a gun and a rosary.
In the film’s ultimate goal to illustrate an attack of the religious, characters bounce around the screen with confusing morals and motivations. Luther believes deeply in his faith, praying quite often during his evasion of authorities, but seems quite comfortable threatening the bad guys with a pistol. His friend Ryan (Brad Stine) is a bubbly preacher of the gospel, but comes off creepy the way he hangs around Luther’s wife and associates with the enemy. The strategy of Senator Harrison also seems rather backwards. He can’t get the support of Luther and decides to frame him for murder. Is Luther supposed to change his tune in exchange for a get-out-of-jail free card? Why would Harrison, or even the President, think that this was a good idea? It’s especially dumbfounding when you consider how easy it is for Luther to prove his innocence (almost laughable).
But none of the details actually matter for this type of story. It all just boils down to a shootout with the righteously spiritual and the evil sinners. The corrupted cronies burst into homes to deliver bullets into the skulls of those who know too much. They crash into Luther’s escaping car and exit their vehicle to fire a few shots through his windshield in cliche slow motion. These guys go to extreme measures just to wipe one guy off the map. But this brings up one big question: Why not just kill Harrison from the beginning? Or do those get-out-of-jail-free cards I joked about actually exist in this world?
Luther’s father at one point compares the forthcoming damage of the Faith and Fairness bill to the religious turmoil of Middle Eastern countries. You know what would really help sell that point? Actually telling us what the bill does! For all the research and digging Luther does on his attackers, why couldn’t he give us some more perspective on this bill and why he opposes it instead of just growling “faith bill bad for Jesus.” Persecuted is a film that not only paints a warped world of decaying Christian presence, but it forgets to color in all the numbers. Even the highly religious right are going to need some major faith in the lacking elements of this script to find the spiritual thriller it so desperately aims to be.
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Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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