Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Father Hollywood Recommends...

I'm a sucker for movies about the clergy. They usually aren't very good. Often they are laugh-out-loud bad - both in terms of the way the clergy are portrayed, as well as the obvious gaffes in sets and costumes. More often than not, the clergy are the bad guys, the Church is evil, the Christians are ignorant or violent, yada yada...

Or, you get the Exorcist wannabe movies, complete with cheesy special effects, goofy lines (often with botched Latin) and clerical garb that looks like it came from Toys R Us.

But every now and then, Hollywood puts out a flick that really gets the complexity of human nature, the struggles of those trying to remain faithful, the burden of the ministry, and the triumph of good over evil, of faith over disbelief, of the Church over the world, and of love over self-centeredness. Every once in a while, Hollywood (or in this case, Toronto) tells a story involving the church and the clergy in which Christians remain faithful in the midst of persecution - sometimes from their own superiors in the Church.

There is such a movie out now on DVD called The Confessor .

It's by no means a blockbuster. This is not a film that will be nominated for any awards. Christian Slater is the only actor I recognize, and he's hardly an "A list" star these days. Nevertheless, he did a believable and commendable job playing a Roman Catholic priest in the midst of a crisis of faith and loyalty. The other actors were likewise convincing for the most part, and the story - a murder mystery - moves along at a rapid clip, and held my interest up until the end.

This is a good movie to rent and watch on the small screen. Most of the reviews of the film range from mediocre to above average - however, I have to give it a B. Perhaps there are subtleties about the film that reflect a theology that just aren't going to be picked up by a general movie audience. The meat and potatoes of this movie isn't the murder mystery, but rather the theme of a clergyman who has lost his faith, and is struggling to find it again.

Slater plays Fr. Daniel Clemens, who does not serve in the parish ministry, but is rather a hotshot church bureaucrat. His fundraising skills land him a cushy district, er I mean, diocese job with credit cards, expensive tastes in champaign and apartment decor, and a Cadillac. He works closely with the district president, er I mean, bishop to look after the church's PR matters.

Life is going along smoothly for our flashy bureaucrat - until one of his colleagues in the ministry - a parish priest - finds himself on trial for murder. He maintains his innocence, but due to restrictions on revealing sins confessed to him, he cannot offer testimony to help himself - sort of along the lines of the Hitchcock movie I Confess (a truly great film). The church's bureaucracy is more concerned with PR and spin than actually helping the accused pastor. They can't believe he would actually guard the seal of the confessional, and attempt to make him break the seal for the sake of the church's image.

Daniel, however, becomes convinced of his colleague's innocence. He insists on taking over his colleague's parish - which places him into real ministry for the first time - actually doing the gritty work of preaching, saying Mass, and interacting with the flock. His belief in the accused priest's innocence and his subsequent shunning of fundraising in favor of Word and Sacrament ministry puts him at odds with the church brass. This results in his being ruthlessly fired - costing him his credit cards, car, and even his residence. The parish where Daniel was working is closed, and Daniel is threatened with being defrocked for his disloyalty.

The rest of the movie involves Daniel and a reporter (who turns out to be Daniel's ex-girlfriend) trying to get at the truth. The ending involves a twist in the plot somewhat reminiscent of "I Confess." The ending not only solves the murder mystery, but also brings resolution to Fr. Clemens' crisis of faith.

Like I said, this is no Oscar-winner, but it's a decent story told well. It does have value in exploring the ramifications of the confessional, of the price of serving the Lord in the parish vs. the more glamorous and lucrative world of church politics (in which the temptation to corruption and power is ever-looming).

I find much in this movie to be true to life. Mrs. Hollywood and I were pleasantly surprised and pleased at the treatment of the Holy Ministry in this film.


Favorite Apron said...

Have you seen, "Diary of a City Priest?" It's a keeper.

Father Hollywood said...

I had to think about it, but I think I did see it some time ago. Isn't that the one where the guy is in the inner city and has "visions" of various saints helping him with his work (which, in the eyes of the world was rather thankless)?

The title is a take-off of Latif Gaba's favorite movie: Diary of a Country Priest - which I've never seen.

I also found the prequel to the Exorcist that was released a couple years ago to have been very good. The Swedish actor that plays the young Fr. Merron (Stellan Skarsgard) is a really great actor (if you get a chance, see the Norwegian version of Insomnia - outstanding!). And, I did enjoy Raising Helen (which actually portrays a Lutheran pastor).

I'm wondering if Sept 11 had a cultural effect on the way Christian clergy are portrayed. Last year, I showed my high school students a documentary made in the late 90s about the way Hollywood portrayed Christians - which was clearly nothing short of a concerted effort to slander. It does seem that the tone has changed somewhat - although there is still a great deal of anti-Christian hostility among film-makers.

Hopefully, the Duh Vinci Code will bomb.

Favorite Apron said...

Another, that we just watched last night, is the German "The Ninth Day," about a priest who has a 9 day leave from Dachau.
What would we do without Netflix?

Mike Green said...

Quoting Father Hollywood: "theme of a clergyman who has lost his faith, and is struggling to find it again." My dear Fr. Hollywood, have you regressed to your Babdist days!?! :) Hope you, Mrs. Hollywood and Lil Hollywood are well! <><