Sunday, July 20, 2008

Blues for Smugglers

Driving religion underground only seems to make it stronger. Just ask the early Christians of the Roman Empire or the former Refuseniks and Christian dissidents who survived Soviet Communism. Many of their brave fellow believers risked their lives and freedom to smuggle Bibles through the Iron Curtain. Unfortunately, the independent Christian film, Smuggler’s Ransom recently released on DVD (trailer here), does not do their story justice.

As was the case with jazz, the Communist prosecution of Bible possession ebbed and flowed as the winds from the Kremlin shifted, but owning or acquiring one always entailed danger. Many smugglers were only one-time contraband carriers, like this Dutch Christian, who were called to use their vacations for a higher purpose. In Ransom, the smuggler in question is the daughter of a Cuban nuclear scientist who defected to America.

While attending college in New York, Carmen Gonsolo became an Evangelical Christian (always a risk when you send your kids off to the City) and was compelled to help those oppressed by the Godless Communist system. When the Romanians capture her and discover her father’s identity, they threaten to execute their captive unless he renounces his capitalist freedom. Enter American agent Bill Donely.

In Ransom it seems the West could only spare on agent in this covert rescue operation and the Warsaw Pact could only dedicate one operative in their efforts to stop him. Certainly, the film is not well served by its barebones budget. In fact, the opening sequence cries out for Crow and Tom Servo. However, the simplicity of the story is what really undermines the film. The cast is what it is, but as agent Donely, Anthony Tyler Quinn seems to have an Everett McGill (Twin Peaks, Under Siege 2) vibe going on, which is a good thing.

Certainly the intentions here are good. Perhaps those looking for a short drama (52 minutes) that offers Christian instruction will find this film suits their needs. However, Ransom is like Hollywood’s recent crop of anti-Iraqi freedom films, like Lions for Lambs and War Inc., in that it neglects plot and character for the sake of its message.

Christian filmmaking will continue to improve by necessity, as Hollywood is not about to start meeting the demands of this untapped market. They will have arrived when Evangelical filmmakers release pictures that audiences find themselves caught up in regardless of their personal faith. Although director Michael Apted and co-producer Terrence Malick may not consider themselves Evangelical, their film Amazing Grace is perhaps a good early example of such a work. Ultimately it is not budget constraints that are important, but story. There are a lot of good people who deserve films that do not mock their faith, so I would like to see aspiring Christian filmmakers succeed artistically for their sake.