Sometimes I’m surprised at what audiences discard as unworthy. I don’t understand people. There, I admitted it. I don’t connect well with other human beings, and this includes my taste in films. This film is unusual, but not in the outlandish way of, say, Nacho Libre. But like other Hess films, its humor is good-hearted and entirely lacks postmodern cynicism.
At first, it appears to be a film mocking evangelical Christians, of the variety that believes wholeheartedly in dubious archaeological biblical artefacts because they need to see or feel physical evidence. They’ve been bitten by the empirical bug, and like their classic lefty counterparts, will go as far as trumping up the evidence — if need be — because the end justifies the means. And often somewhere in the process, they forget that the evidence was trumped up in the first place and begin to believe in their own stories.
It’s difficult to tell whether the main character, Don Verdean believes in his fake artefacts or even whether he believes they would lead to the greater good of spreading the gospel. Perhaps what he really wants is to be admired, a man of God whom other men follow. Of course, there are also riches at stake: a pastor willing to pay him big bucks to unearth an archaeological treasure bigger than the pillar of salt known as Lot’s wife (which turns out not to be due to…masculine anatomy): Goliath’s skull. Played by Sam Rockwell, Don’s character is too impassive to easily pin down. His sidekick, Jemaine Clement’s Boaz, gives the audience better insight into the kind of soul Don Verdean really has: a skeevy, cheating one. While it’s clear Boaz’s motive is money and Don’s is muddled up in promoting a narrative, they are flipsides to the same coin. The third element to Don’s psychology is the loyal female assistant (Amy Ryan). Her belief in Don and his archaeological finds is unwavering; she is truly gullible, possessing of a pure faith that is, of course, shattered at the end of the film. But Don’s likewise devotion to her gives an indication that Don, himself, had once possessed her type of faith.
It’s obvious by reading some of the negative reviews of this film that the critics hated it for the very reason I liked it — the comedy doesn’t delve into the dark regions it could. In the Hess universe, Clement always plays a thoroughly repulsive bad guy, albeit one where his worst proclivities are offscreen. For example, we see that Verdean is willing to pimp his assistant to Boaz in exchange for his silence on the fake artefact, but their “date” is awkward more than it is revolting.
The comedy is also deadpan, tongue-in-cheek, and softened by good characterization. This is a character-driven movie. Therefore, the audience (or this audience) is able to sympathize with Don as he ultimately faces prison time. Critics can be incredibly world-weary people. They’ve seen everything on screen, and many of them have no love for Christianity. They want obvious laughs and obvious stereotypes of despicable Christians. And that brings me to my favorite part of the film. Don Verdean isn’t completely lost; he isn’t the fool critics prefer. Instead, he finds redemption, and it is beautiful and unexpected. It’s the type of redemption that comes in the form of God “working all things together for good for those that love him and are called to his purpose”.
This is a 2015 film, not new, and I would like to give away the ending, but I’m not going to do that. It’s lovely. Go watch it for yourself. Maybe you’ll like it as much as I did.