Do You Believe? movie full length review - Well Made--But A Deeply Problematic Film
I've given this film 5/10 stars mostly due to the fact that it's extremely well made. The script, so far as the storytelling, the film's pacing etc, is quite good, as are the acting and cinematography.
All in all it was a well made, well produced movie. For that reason, I've rated this movie higher than I might otherwise.
However, the film is deeply problematic when it comes to its message.
First, I'll reiterate what other user reviews have stated: This film is a "Crash" clone. It is a complicated story in which the lives of twelve different people are all intertwined, such that several different personal stories all wind up overlapping. Indeed, it is such an obvious ripoff of "Crash" that the movie almost constitutes plagiarism in some regards.
But if you can get past that, the bigger problem with this movie is its convoluted message. The film begins with a quote from the Book of James, "Faith Without Acts is Dead". If you go and read that passage in context, you'll find that James is exhorting the faith community to do good works for the community--to care for widows and orphans, so the passage reads.
As such, one might guess that surely this movie's intention is to follow in the spirit of that message. But that's not so. While the film does have a few things that can be interpreted as promoting the importance of good deeds, the more overt message seems to be that faith in action is a faith which professes itself, and one which acts by making others believe the same things you do. That's a very different message than the one that the initial quote from James is meant to convey.
Early in the film a pastor at a local church is approached by a street preacher who asks him if he "believes in the cross of Christ." A short conversation ensues in which the street preacher says that to some the cross stands for forgiveness and redemption, but then asks him what does it really mean? He then states that the cross, "loves, and forgives, and demands.....demands that we profess it." The pastor then goes back and shares this message with his congregation. And so, the strong suggestion here is that faith in action is a faith that shares itself with others--one that evangelizes, and one that professes itself rather than keeping to itself.
Again, this is a very different conception of faith in action than the passage that appears on screen at the beginning of the film. The movie seems to reduce James's message to sharing one's beliefs with others. That's convoluted at best--and arguably constitutes poor theology.
But there are other problems.
As the film progresses we meet Joe Phillips, a reformed felon who has gotten his life back on track, but who is now dying of leukemia. Near the film's end Joe passes away in a hospital bed, is dead for eight minutes, and then miraculously comes back to life and is fully healed. Through this miracle, several people come to believe in the power of God. The scene that plays out on screen is not a scene in which someone dies from an accident of some sort or a heart attack--something in which one might plausibly somehow be resuscitated, or in which doctors are working to save a man who slips away but is then brought back to life. Rather, this man is dying of a chronic disease which he has been suffering from the complications of for many months, then does in fact die, and then is miraculously healed.
As a minister, I believe in miracles. But I also know that this is not how God works for folks facing end of life issues with chronic diseases. That being the case, I found this part of the film to be deeply troublesome. This movie communicates a false sense of hope to its audience, and one that bears some resemblance to the "prosperity gospel" which is so common in contemporary American culture. The message goes that if you simply believe in the power of God, God will bless you in extraordinary ways--in this case through the gift of a miraculous healing.
At the end of the movie there is a strong suggestion that the intricate web of stories that the twelve-person plot has offered leads to the conclusion that "everything happens for a reason", another problematic concept inasmuch as it doesn't allow for a proper theology of sin. To suggest that everything that happens in the course of history happens for a reason is to suggest that God wills sin. The movie counters this concept elsewhere (Majors lecture to Shepherd about God's presence in the event of their daughter's death), which makes it unfortunate that it ends with a nod to this very problematic idea of determinism.
Finally, one of the major points of the story revolves around a firefighter who takes a stand for his faith despite being pressured by his job. He shares his faith with a man who is on his deathbed and is then sued for doing so. The film seems to celebrate this type of evangelism?deathbed confessions, and inasmuch reduces "believing" to a type of altar call experience. The firefighter's unfolding pride of this evangelism is likewise celebrated in a way that was troublesome.
That said, my big problem with this movie is that its message comes across as a hodgepodge of smaller messages, and inasmuch as that's true it's hard to really understand what the takeaway of the film is really intended to be. In attempting to put forth several ideas in one film, what we end up with is a movie that says nothing at all very well, and makes you think very hard to understand what it was trying to say. It may suit you fine for entertainment purposes, but don't expect much in the way of a good takeaway.