Nice production work, and occasional flashes of sincerity, but still falls short of its goal.
Its another one of those fundie Christian proselytizing exertions, but you don't need me to tell you that. One gets the impression that each time the movie production suits manage to put together a kitty to forge yet-another of these, it's with the perennial hope, "This one will be different. This one will deliver."
It's 1) better than the usual run, but 2) that's not saying much.
No, it doesn't really deliver. Flicks like this are attempts to use a kind of moral grooming to create pristine little scenarios in which American evangelical Christianity plays out like an honest proposition. But sensitive folks can quickly sniff out that grooming and ultimately resent being treated like jacka55es whose radars were presumed not subtle enough to detect it.
Here's a woefully incomplete list of facile treatments:
* The wife is a bit too quick to draw a causal line between her daughter's rescue and the rescuer's Christianity; it makes sense neither logically nor narratively. Sure, she feels powerful emotions at her daughter's rescue. That doesn't mean she's duty-bound to jettison clear-headed thinking. She can be grateful and sensible at the very same time: One doesn't have to crowd the other out.
* Though managed more artfully than I've seen elsewhere, Strobel is still a bit of a straw dog. He's painted as a somewhat acrid species of atheist. Most atheists are quite different from the Strobel depicted here.
* The flick winds up fixing on the resurrection as key to the Christian "faith". There's a very strong argument for the view that thinking you're a Christian because you profess to "believe" articles of faith (the virgin birth, resurrection, ascension, etc.), may be straining the gnat and swallowing the camel.
* More generally, the flick falls into the trap of promoting a creed basis for Christianity--that accepting a creed is the basis for your self-identification as an adherent of the religion. I've come to the place in my life when I find it hard to imagine a sadder waste of human spiritual searching. This flick backs a horse that loses, right out of the gate.
* The textual criticism argument fails on two points. One, there's plenty of evidence for the view that the New Testament texts had been modified, specifically in ways that wound up having downstream effects on popular notions of "correct" creed. Two, the flick doesn't even mention the fact that the Gospel stories went through 4 or 5 inter- generational oral transmissions *before* someone wrote them down; and this probably explains more about those texts than my first point.
* Why doesn't the flick show Strobel shutting himself into a room for a week or so and carefully reading/combing through the New Testament? I suspect it was left out because most of this flick's demographic would leave it out themselves; that is, they hold the Bible to be true while not reading it either.
* Strobel's mentor plunks a copy of Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian" on the desk in front of Strobel. Why? Russell's prime argument in that text was not ancient-historic, it was philosophic. In the following scene, Strobel's editor then says that canned thing about Christianity resting on the historicity of the resurrection. This juxtaposition is confused, but does shed light on the demographic for the movie; it's aimed at folks who haven't read or reflected on philosophical views of the matter, so 1) the Russell book is reduced to a boogie talisman, and 2) the movie can then wend into the tar pit of historicity--which in the end winds up being a matter of bald belief (not faith). That's insulting to thinking people.
* Strobel tells his wife, "I don't like what you're becoming." Which raises a question that might elude the casual viewer. That question is, "What *is* she becoming?" That's an important question! Now, there are some scripted and produced moments that show her sitting with her Bible and being truly moved by genuinely sweet passages. That's good! Remember: It's often *not* good. Weak people can be taken in by religious frauds who sink their fangs into them and turn them into monsters. Heck, Jesus talked about that!
* The doctor is able to argue convincingly for Jesus's death. He might also argue vociferously for his resurrection, but not from a medical standpoint, as a medical researcher. A white lab coat only caries so much gravitas.
* There's a scene that actually--and I suspect unwittingly, on the screenwriter's part--gives away the shop on the communication issue in relationship. Strobel's wife talks about "her (new, religious) feelings" in a general, wizzy-wozzy way, but bizarrely fails to couch those feelings in honest, convincing language. Remember: Even poetic language would and should be welcome in these situations... but she can't even muster that. How far did she honestly *think* she'd get in her so-called "communication" with her husband? When I watched that scene, here was my takeaway: You were *not* seeing a collision of worldviews/belief systems. You were seeing two blind people bumping into trees in disparate forests. I've seen that before, and I fear I know the next step: She's going to start blaming the pain she feels as a result of all that tree-bumping on the people around her whom she would otherwise simply love; she'll start dismissing them from her heart, as "tools of Satan".
* ...and there's more.
While nicely produced and occasionally trenchant, the whole thing is yet another mess, in which a writer sets himself the task of bending screen writing to the defense of an untenable proposition--that belief (not faith) is a source of redemption/salvation. The producers may weigh in production finery--which includes truly marvelous exertions on the parts of the actors--but people who expect top-to-bottom solidity in their narrative products won't be taken in.