Truth and evolution
Review: The Gospel (DVD)
Now, I know plenty of people who are disappointed in The Gospel. I wonder how much of that disappointment is rooted in the Rainforest Films filmography. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't like Trois and while Pandora's Box starts with potential, it's a film that's derailed by an underdeveloped plot and a scattershot third act in need of firmer direction.
So while The Gospel wasn't the greatest film I've ever seen, it's a film—much like Pandora's Box—that demonstrates director and writer Rob Hardy's continued evolution. With each film, his staging and camera work becomes more fluid, his ability to find the dramatic beats within each scene more assured and his dialogue more nuanced.
However, what really drives me as I write is that few have acknowledged that, as a film about faith, The Gospel gets the important parts right. While Trois and Pandora's Box only deal in a surface exploration of sex and love among their 20-something characters, The Gospel does more than dip its toe in the water. As a result, The Gospel is a film that's filled with a quite a bit of truth.
David Taylor (Boris Kodjoe) and Reverend Charles Frank (Idris Elba) were once best friends. Members of New Revelations, the church David's father founded and currently leads, David and Frank are seen by Bishop Taylor and the church as their pride and future. Flash-forward 15 years and David and Charles have grown into two flawed men who are more than just a few prayers short of perfection.
David, angry that this father wasn't present when his mother died, left the church and has built an R&B career that's just starting to take off. Having stayed behind, Charles has married David's cousin and is now Bishop Taylor's de facto successor.
Charles's greatest ambition is to push New Revelations to the next level. Watching with a mix of admiration and envy at a mega-church's commercial, Charles isn't shy about expressing his desire to wield that kind of power and influence. It's a yearning that makes many of the leaders, including Bishop Taylor, uneasy. No matter how often he points to God has the source of his vision it's obvious that Charles is driven as much by ego as he is faith.
After David's father collapses during a meeting with the church board, David returns to the church that was once so much part of his life. Upon his return, David and Charles quickly find themselves on opposite sides concerning the future of New Revelations.
There's a saying that if you want to know what a man believes don't listen to what he says, but watch what he does. This is where Hardy's story most succeeds.
When the inevitable climactic showdown between David and Charles occurs, Hardy forsakes Hollywood cliché and instead relies on one basic truth. If David's and Charles's faith is genuine, then each man's transformation must first come from within. Any change motivated by some mano-a-mano external conflict and not by their personal relationship with their God instantly renders everything that came before false.
The trite resolution would have been to have David render an eloquent and impassioned speech before the congregation. As if it was a shootout at some Spiritual OK Corral. He would have called Charles out and the church—experiencing a simultaneous epiphany—would see Charles for the fraud he is. Yet, Charles isn't a fraud. Yes, his ego and pride have led him astray, however his faith is sincere.
For all his bluster about New Revelations being his father's church, his on-the-fence commitment makes David the last person who has the right to stand up to Charles. So when David finally has to decide where his heart truly lies, he does it standing alone before his mother and father's grave. No one can tell him where he belongs but himself.
With this film Hardy also shows an increasing ability to flesh out his characters and relationships and to create little touches that humanize them.
Reverend Charles isn't just a man of a cloth, but also a man who—gasp—likes having sex with his wife. Charles's wife Charlene (Nona Gaye) is a woman who acknowledges her husbands oversize ego, but believes in the end that the greater good will be served. Yet, it's not simply his ego that places their relationship on rocky ground. It's a revelation—that I'll leave you to discover—that could have used more screen time, but as an undercurrent, it gives several scenes an added dimension.
As I've said, this movie isn't without its flaws. Of the two stories, Charles's journey is so ripe with potential that it's a shame that it wasn't further developed and explored. As for David, his storyline isn't as interesting, yet his storyline is also underserved. His romance with Rain (Tamyra Gray) doesn't go deep enough and is resolved all too quickly.
Still, as long as he continues to grow as a filmmaker, I'm eager in seeing what Hardy and Rainforest Films tackles next.
Charles Judson is a local screen & comic book writer and a regular contributor and film critic for CinemATL.