This is not the cliched story of a man falling in love with his Maker, nor is it the trite, formulaic, feel-good movie that seems to be the hallmark of the Faith-based movie market. In classic cinematic fashion, The Case for Christ reveals the love story between a man and a woman who will do whatever it takes to save the relationship they’ve been building since their teens. In watching, the audience experiences falling in love again, too.
Through the opening montage, we immediately connect with Leslie and Lee. Their innocent joy, their commitment to each other, and their ability to cherish special moments in life have clearly created a solid relationship. Just as quickly as we fall in love with the Strobel family, our hearts thud in our chests as a near-tragedy shakes the family’s foundation. Faced with a very real fear, Leslie and Lee react in opposite ways: Leslie seeks comfort for her heart and her feelings in the Christian Faith, while Lee simply dismisses the event as coincidence. Throughout the course of the movie, Lee’s jealousy and fear drive him to save Leslie from this “Christian Cult” in the only way he knows: investigate it and prove it false.
Based on Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ, Screenwriter Brian Bird was provided some beautiful text to adapt to the screen, but how does one create a compelling piece of cinema from a best-selling Christian apologetics novel? It isn’t possible. There is simply too much research content that doesn’t support a three-act narrative. For this story to be real for its audience, authenticity was a must. To do that skillfully, Bird spent 7 days with the Strobels, chatting in an office-basement about every little family tradition, connection, and failing. Bird sifted through Strobel’s books, as well as his memories, in order to sprinkle the script with words and movements that make the family leap off the screen. From little Ally’s finger wave to Leslie’s “you and only you” promise of devotion, Bird intricately interweaves tenderness and tradition with the trials of a marriage on the brink of destruction. Coupled with Jon Gunn’s brilliant direction and the raw emotion portrayed by Mike Vogel (Lee) and Erika Christensen (Leslie), Bird’s script mirrors life as it plays across the screen. Their collective creative genius takes us back to the years of mobile pagers, Tootsie Pops, and cut off jeans. The sun filters into the windows of the Strobel home through smoky air, creating a haze that mimics the haze in Lee’s mind. He simply cannot comprehend how his wife can make such an about-face from atheist to believer. As each conversation between the husband and wife escalates, Bird cleverly breaks the tension with a well-timed, offhanded comment that eases the tension just a bit, only to pull us back in through the intensity of the moment.
In experiencing this film, tears of sadness mingled with joy trickled from my eyes on five separate occasions. For me, that is the true test of a brilliantly orchestrated movie: it moved me to my very core. At one point in Lee’s journey for truth, he is forced to realize that what he believes is truth isn’t always so. When he apologizes to a police informant for a mistake in reporting, Lee explains “I didn’t see the truth.” The man challenges him with “You didn’t want to see it.” So many of us are like Lee, searching for truth, for evidence. Others of us are like Leslie, moved to Faith through a need to fill the emptiness in our spirits. This movie speaks truth in both ways, not only about the Christian Faith, but about how essential it is to fight for our loved ones and to fight for our relationships. In order to do that, we must want to see the truth and truly seek it. I urge you, take a loved one with you to this movie. As you watch, hold hands and remember that love is always worth fighting for, and the truth is out there if you want to see it.