Saturday, February 18, 2006

A 'Chance' Not to Be Missed

I know I said I wasn't going to post 'til Monday (unless the new glamour pics arrive), but I have to jump in to tell you that I just saw a great movie and advise you run, don't walk, to see it if it's near you.

I say run, don't walk, because the film is getting no promotion that I can discern, so there's no telling how long it'll be in theaters, which is a darn shame, because it's great.

It's called "The Second Chance," and it's the first film directed by Steve Taylor, who is known for being a maverick of the Christian music world. He's been enormously successful as a record producer (Sixpence None the Richer and others), and has also sold over a million records as a singer and songwriter, but puts a high premium on artistry and refuses to play the game.

The ads for The Second Chance" suggest it's a white-pastor/black-pastor buddy movie where the rich white megachurch guy is kicked downstairs and has to help out at the black pastor's poor inner-city church. I was expecting something like "The Fighting Temptations," with all the clichés showing the well-off man's shock at seeing how the other half lives. The fact that lantern-jawed, ultra-clean-cut Christian singing star Michael W. Smith reinforced to me the possibility that the film would be slick and predictable.

All that, plus the fact that I'm quite cynical about films made beyond 1965 and only see about five new movies a year at most, was enough to keep me away. But Steve Taylor's involvement piqued my curiosity, so I watched the clip of "Scene #1" on the film's Web site.

Smith's acting in the clip seemed to confirm my fear that he would be wooden — a misjudgment on my part, as I now know he was acting well; his character starts out the movie repressed and uptight. But as I watched it, I noticed something that freaked me out quite a bit. It seemed to have been shot by someone who had closely studied "Citizen Kane." The effects with the lights going out in room after room; the shifting, symbolic, carefully chosen backdrops; the shadow-box effect as each room's doorway appeared as a light at the end of the tunnel — these were all utterly, gloriously Wellesian. They were also accomplished without taking away from the scene's drama; the visual effects enhanced the scene's meaning rather than distracting it.

Since when, I thought, had a Christian filmmaker made a dramatic, non-action-oriented "Christian" film with such attention to visual detail?

It didn't occur to me until I left the Times Square AMC 25 after seeing "The Second Chance" yesterday that the answer to that question was the late 1980s, when Krzystof Kieslowski made "The Decalogue."

I saw a lot of "Decalogue" in "The Second Chance." It also struck me, afterwards, that the film contained strong echoes of G.K. Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross — so much so that I would be very surprised if Taylor had not read it. (He lists as one of his heroes Flannery O'Connor, so it's not much of a stretch to think he's read Chesterton as well.)

"The Second Chance" is a remarkably thoughtful film, artful without being arty, and genuinely moving without being manipulative. It pains me that I haven't heard advertisements for it on the Christian radio stations in my area, nor have I seen any notice of it elsewhere; I discovered it by accident, while searching the online movie listings.The message of this film is essentially nonpartisan and is one that would have meaning to churchgoers and nonchurchgoers alike: We must be doers of the Word and not just hearers.

The end of the film — which is not as neat or predictable as I'm sure Hollywood would have liked — is particularly moving. (Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil it.) It has a message that crosses denominational lines — I found it more Catholic than anything else, though I'm sure that wasn't the intent. I've never before seen anyone pull off the social-justice message onscreen in such a way that reflects what true social justice is — as opposed to a politically polarized depiction.

To put it in a nutshell, in "The Second Chance," Steve Taylor tells a moving story of friendship, and conveys a larger social message, and gives, essentially, the full Gospel message, all within a quiet, delicate, and sensitively done film. Great soundtrack, too. Go see it while it's still around. You won't be sorry.

Find showtimes for "The Second Chance" on the IMDB. Note: The ad at left is from the film's Web site; it's not a paid ad.