Saturday, September 21, 2019

Persecuted -2014

Director:                       Daniel Lusko
Writer:                          Daniel Lusko
Producers:                   James R. Higgins & Daniel Lusko
Cinematrography:        Richard J. Vialet
Film Editing:                 Brian Brinkman
Production Design:      Mark Alan Duran
Music:                          Chris Ridenhour

John Luther                  James Remar
Dave Wilson                 Dean Stockwell
Sen.Donald Harrison    Bruce Davison
Mr. Gray                        Raoul Trujillo
Dr. Charles Luther        Fred Dalton Thompson
Pastor Ryan Morris       Brad Stine
Monica                          Natalie Grant
Aaliyah                          Ashley LaRae
Alex O'Connor              Tabatha Shaun
TV Anchor Diane          Gretchen Carlson
President                      James R. Higgins

Indieproduction, One Media, Vocal Yokels.  91 minutes.

God moves in a mysterious way,
      His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
     And rides upon the storm.

Olney Hymns.  William Cowper

If God had anything to do with the making of this movie he moves in a mysterious way indeed.

"Persecuted" is getting one half kiss from me for giving work to some talented actors.  It’s losing the rest of the possible kisses for wasting that talent and also for suckering me into watching it.  I looked at the cast list and thought it must be worthwhile and possibly interesting.  I was wrong.

It has a decent if overused basic plot and seems to want to be a political thriller/innocent-man-on-the-run story.  When that framework has a good script to hang onto it works well, e.g. “North by Northwest”, “The Wrong Man”, “The Fugitive.  But the thriller plot is used here only as an excuse for the main premise, which is that Christians are a heavily persecuted group in the US, threatened with extinction from liberal secular villains. The filmmakers' explanation for this is specious and the convoluted intrigue around it is laughably ludicrous.  
I will try to explain the “plot” to this thing, so hold on tight.

Our protagonist John Luther (Luther – get it?  Subtlety is not this movie’s forte) is an evangelical minister and head of a megachurch.  He’s evidently the most popular preacher in history and “reaches more people than the evening news”.  He is also a reformed alcoholic, drug user, philanderer and lots of other fun stuff, but is shown now to be decent, honest and pious. 

As you saw in the clip above, our hero is interviewed by a familiar blond TV personality named “Diane” (totally NOT Gretchen Carlson and the network is CNW which is totally NOT Fox News) while riots are raging outside in the rain.  It’s impossible at this point to get a handle on what the picketers are saying or whose side they are on or what the hell is going on. 

Luther is approached by a US Senator (Bruce Davison) who is trying to push a bill through Congress for which Luther’s public support is somehow crucial. The Bill is called “The Faith and Fairness Act” and its purpose is “to publicly declare your religious beliefs in a way that permits equal time and respect to other systems of faith.”  

The Bill kinda sounds ok, that is until you think about it for more than two seconds and realize it makes no sense.  The movie’s setting seems to be contemporary US but the Constitution doesn’t seem to exist.  Our US already has a Constitution with amendments to protect religion and speech and this nutty bill is simply unconstitutional.  In the real world a bill like this wouldn't get a serious discussion anywhere much less make it to the floor of Congress.  

Luther refuses his support saying he cannot compromise his beliefs or water down his Christianity. His attitude puts into motion a monumentally bonkers scheme to take him down and shred his reputation.  He is kidnapped, drugged and beaten.  He wakes up in the middle of nowhere beside the body of a dead young woman and with only a hazy memory of what happened. He stumbles out of the car in time to hide in the brush as a cop car shows up.  The police are in on the plot and after a perfunctory search of an approximately twenty square foot area they send out an APB on the clerical culprit.  

As Luther is watching the idiot police not noticing him about thirty feet away, he sees another mysterious person in the brush recording the proceedings on a phone.  Stick a pin in that for a few minutes. 

While Luther is on the run we discover that the Senator is in league with the Secret Service.  The Service guys committed the murder, framed Luther and are now trying to kill him.  Much later we see the evil Senator on the phone with the President who looks and sounds a lot like Bill Clinton. A lot. These machinations permeate the entire government and they are probably filthy Democrats to boot.  Luther is portrayed as the only honest, stand-up guy in the country, single-handedly fighting for the future of Christianity.  

In the morning he makes his way to a Pump n’ Munch to ask for help.  The clerk refuses to let this bloody, disheveled man who is in obvious distress use the restroom.   He says, “Don’t you know who I am?”  Honestly, that is kind of a dick-ish celebrity thing to say.  Couldn’t he just say, “I’ve been in an accident, could you help me?”  But the clerk is a bigger dick for not helping this stranger.  She must have been a Democrat.

Eventually we see him enter a church and ask the priest for help.  It turns out that they know each other, but this scene gives one pause because Luther calls him “dad” a few times. Ok, so my default setting is that it’s a Catholic church and the fellow standing at the altar wearing a black suit with a white collar is a Catholic priest, so someone calling him “dad” is a little weird and I require more information.  It’s possible the priest is Episcopalian and had a family but we’re not told.  It’s equally possible though less probable that Luther Is an old-fashioned Maynard G. Krebs beatnik from the 1950’s and calls everyone “dad”. 

Let me berate this point a bit more.  Having the priest be Luther’s dad is an unnecessary detail which adds nothing to the plot.  They could be friends for any number of reasons, reasons which I would never think or care about.  However, my theory is that the intended audience for this movie – Evangelical Protestants – have their own default setting and might have a problem with Luther having a good friend who is a Catholic priest.  If he is Catholic, he would have to be a blood relative to explain the connection.  BUT, making him a Catholic priest AND Luther’s dad would require a complicated explanation.  In fact, he wouldn’t even have to be a priest; he could be a florist or a retired geologist or a dog groomer or a doctor of chiropractic or a writer who specializes in whacked-out religious conspiracy theories, or absolutely anything else.  (In my research I found that there is a novelization of the film, Persecuted: I Will Not be Silent, by Robin Parrish, which explains that the character is an Episcopalian.  So, ok, solved.)  It just bugs me that the screenwriting was so sloppy that one sentence was not included to make it clear.  Screenwriters – please.  This kind of thing can make people like me crazy but can be neutralized with one line of exposition.  It doesn’t have to be difficult.

And if you think that I am getting in too deep with conspiracy theories about this yarn then you haven’t followed me into this movie. 

The priest (Fred Dalton Thompson) gives Luther a place to shower, change clothes, gives him his car and hands him a pretty hefty Sopranos-size bankroll.  Father Dad must have had a really good gig to be able to hand his son such a juicy wad of cash. We also get the low-down on what has been happening.  Father Dad explains the title of the movie; that Christians are a persecuted and endangered species.  The Bill and absolutely everything else that happens is part of a whopping scheme to silence Luther and eliminate Christians.  And that my friends, is the real reason this movie was made. 

And by the way, just to drive home the point about the good guy fighting the bad guys there is a painting in the priest’s office of David and Goliath.  I told you subtlety is not this movie’s forte. 

Luther phones his wife, who may or may not believe he is innocent, and she tells him he can't come home because there are police everywhere.  So he goes home.   He parks in front of his home.  As he sits there in his darkened car, his head covered in a hoodie, a cruiser goes by slowly and shines a light on him.  The cops don't stop him or ask him any questions, they just drive on.

They drive on past the one person who would most likely be there and who looks suspicious and who just happens to be the person they are looking for.  He couldn’t have been more obvious if he had parked in the driveway.  Great work guys, great police instincts.  Once again, sloppy screenwriting. 

I won’t spoil the rest of the movie for you.  Let me just mention that – his father is murdered,

 a car chase happens, the President tells a really strange story about a snake, Luther gets the recording of the crime and is able to trap the Senator and get him to confess on tape, the Senator is murdered by the Secret Service, there is a three-way shoot out in an empty swimming pool with Luther, the FBI and the Secret Service,

 Luther sends the tape to the tv journalist (who was not Gretchen Carlson) she releases the tape everywhere so Luther is vindicated and is asked to come to the White House and has to shake hands with the evil President. 

It’s difficult to describe all the ways that this movie doesn’t hang together, however here are a few:

-       1)  Luther is the most listened to anybody in the country?  Really?  Oprah doesn’t exist?  And his support is absolutely needed for this wacky bill to pass?  And if he refuses you have to kill him?  And you believe in the credibility of the Bill in the first place and think it will be enacted? 

-       2)  When he wakes up from the drug which knocked him out immediately (gotta love movie drugs) he can snap out of it and then pass out again when convenient for the story.

-       3)  Remember the shady character who was seen recording the murder frame-up on a smartphone?  What the hell was this person doing in the middle of the night, middle of nowhere just by mere chance recording this?  Luther later somehow knows that this person is located in a trailer with a sign out front reading “American Woman”.  It appears to be a….I don’t know.  Meth lab?  Biker hang-out?  Head shop?  Tattoo parlor?  Recycling center?  It does have a nice accessible ramp out front so they are ADA compliant.  

-      4)   While he is injured and wandering in the desert a van swoops down upon him.  It is some sort of Christian ministry outreach thingy.  The woman stops and offers him help in the way of a bottle of water and donuts.  He takes the water, refuses the donuts but asks to use her phone. It’s jammed into our face that the only people who offer him help and he can trust are Christians – certainly not Pump ‘n Munch clerks.


-       5)  Luther’s megachurch has a board of directors who immediately assume he is guilty and needs to be replaced.  They also unanimously agree with The Bill because, somehow, it will make enormous profits for them.  If they are so eager to stab Luther in the back and betray the church what are they doing on his board in the first place?  What was their attitude last week?   Luther was either unnaturally naïve or criminally out of touch.

-       And in case you missed the fact that the board is a cabal of greedy, duplicitous bastards we get some beautiful shots of a statue of a golden calf in the middle of the conference table.  I’m not kidding.  How did Luther never notice that?  Are church directors really into such spot-on, tone-deaf, superbly delicious irony? 

"Irony, my face expressing irony?"

6)   Luther’s right-hand man is a stupid clown who opens for Luther as his “comic” warm-up act on stage.  The Senator (easily) talks him into taking over the ministry thereby putting another nail into Luther’s coffin.  Clown puffs himself up believing the cunning, obviously fake compliments he’s hearing.  For good measure he visits Luther’s wife and hits on her while singing “Amazing Grace”.  At least she has the good taste to tell him to knock it off.  Under which particular rock did Luther find this guy? 

-       The actor who played the stupid clown was a co-producer of the film and has appeared in other Christian apologetics films.   

-      7)   Evil Senator has Chopin playing on the sound system during the scene of tempting the stupid clown.  At least it wasn’t opera.  I’m fed up with bad guys in movies being pegged as evil because they listen to opera or classical music.  We have another example of sloppy screenwriting relying on cliche character short-hand.  


-      8)   Luther tries to get a room in a motel.  But without any ID or credit card he offers the clerk a big piece of his cash.  She smiles and tells him she will be right back.  While he waits he sees the headline TV news about his crime spree and how a nationwide man-hunt is under way.  We see the clerk on the phone in the back room, turning him in and agreeing to stall him.  When she returns to the desk he is gone.  The scene is ripped off from Hitchcock’s 1959 “North by Northwest” and needless to say it was done much better there.  See for yourself.

-       9)  As far as I can tell there is one SFX shot.  A bullet is fired and slows down to Matrix speed for no reason at all.  I guess that they had a budget for special effects and by golly they were going to use it.

-      10)  The evil Senator claims that the Bill is about bringing people together by stating that all religions are equal but he admits to Luther that the real intention is to have a system in place to spy on mosques and synagogues to catch terrorists.   This makes no sense either, and is also very evil. 

-       Last but certainly not least, how are Christians persecuted in the US?  I know it does  happen in other parts of the world, but please show me one example which has happened here.  And no, legal gay marriage is not persecution.

To all of the poor, sweet, befuddled people who watched this film in theaters or church basements and nodded their heads in recognition throughout the run time I have two points.
1)     You are correct to believe that the Bill is wrong and should not be supported.  It is nuts.
2)     You are wrong about everything else.  Please take a deep breath and realize that you are not really being persecuted here. You are still a majority in the U.S.  Cultural and ethnic diversity, acceptance of an individual’s choice of how they conduct their sex lives, how they identify themselves, whether a person believes in scientific facts, whether they are of another faith or do not believe in an all–powerful deity, women who insist on being treated as full human beings with control over their bodies, gay couples who want to celebrate their wedding with a cake – none of this threatens you.  Please, just try to stay calm. 

As I stated at the beginning, this is a wasted opportunity of a movie.  Most of the actors seem to be trying to work with what they were given, but what they were given was awful. 

I have always liked James Remar (“Dexter”, “What Lies Beneath”, “Blackcoat’s Daughter”, “Django Unchained” and tons of other stuff) and he does a credible job here.  There is no actor better at portraying stalwart goodness.  My only complaint about his performance is that he does not display much of an arc for his character.  He looks vaguely worried at the beginning and doesn’t change that much through the course of the film.  But I’m not really blaming him.  James, I love you.  By the way, Mr. Remar was the original casting for the role of Hicks in “Aliens”.  He had started filming but had to leave for personal reasons.  I loved Michael Biehn in that role but James Remar would have been just as great.
James Remar as Cpl Hicks

The very talented actor, Bruce Davison (“Willard”, “The Crucible”, “Longtime Companion”) played another evil Senator in 2000’s “X-Men”.   He and James Remar share the best scene in this movie – in the Senator’s home as he is confessing to the frame-up. 

Dean Stockwell (“Anchors Aweigh”, “Gentleman’s Agreement”, “Sons and Lovers”, “Compulsion”, tv series “Quantum Leap”) started his acting career as a child in the 1940’s.  He is a fabulously versatile actor.  Unfortunately, here he is required to look glum and not much else. At first he is the only board member to stick up for Luther, but that doesn't last long.  

Natalie Grant, who plays Luther’s wife Monica, is a Christian recording artist.

Raoul Trujillo (“Apocalypto”, “Riddick”, “Sicario”)  plays the main Secret Service villain.  He reminds me of an older, more evil looking Lou Diamond Phillips.  He is an actor, dancer, artist – he just has a very cool CV.  Look him up.

Fred Dalton Thompson (“The Hunt for Red October”, “No Way Out”, “Cape Fear”, “Sinister”) also appeared in another Christian movie, “God’s Not Dead 2”.  He was a former US Senator from Tennessee turned actor.  For me, he will always be known for his real-life role as counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973.  His questioning brought out major points in the case; for example, he asked Alexander Butterfield about recording devices in the White House, knowledge of which eventually led to Nixon’s resignation.

I fell for watching this film because of the cast.  It’s the same way I would watch a movie simply because Lance Henriksen was starring.  Mr. Henriksen has graced some of my favorite movies, like “Aliens”, “Pumpkinhead”, “Terminator” and “Near Dark”.  However he has been in A LOT of extremely crappy low budget horror movies that were a waste of my time.  I don’t do that anymore.  Sorry, Lance.  I mean I’m glad you get work and all…but geez!

I will end this with a quote from Billy Graham"
"The framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion." 

Sorry Billy, you were wrong about this as you were about so many other things.  The First Amendment protects freedom OF religion AS WELL AS freedom from religion.  And no, this is not merely my opinion.

Have a comment about this post?  Please, be my guest.  Indulge yourself.  I would love to hear from you.  Click on “Comments” below.  Thanks!

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