Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Song

Drama
2014 / 116 minutes
RATING: 9/10

The Song destroys all the expectations we have for Christian films. It has great acting, a great script, an even better soundtrack...and also infidelity, abortion, suicide, drugs, and more infidelity. It's far better than most any Christian film you've seen, but also much grittier.

It is based on, but does not pretend to be, the story of King David and Solomon. The setting is, instead, Nashville, with Jed King an aspiring country singer, who hasn't yet measured up to the status of his superstar father. But he also hasn't fallen into any of his excesses either. 

When he meets Rose, the manager of a winery, he writes a special song for her that turns into his first major hit. From there we see him rise to spectacular heights. Like Solomon before him, he has it all. And like Solomon (and his superstar father) before him, he falls to the temptress, in his case the lead singer of his opening act. 

That doesn't really do it justice, because if you imagine how a story based on the Bible, however loosely, typically turns out, there's just one word for it: lame. That's why it's important to emphasize just how unusual and exceptional The Song is. Two things make it remarkable. The first is the perfect pairing of story, with song, and even with narrated voice overs. All the "Solomonic texts"– Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon – are quoted regularly, and impactfully. Jed is learning some hard lessons through the film, and he shares them, warning us of the ways of the adulterous women, but also the futility of having it all when it is all going to turn  to dust in the end. 

Remarkable too, is the music. It's another fantastic pairing of story and song: the musical performances are worth the price of admission right there!

While praising it as highly as I can, I will add that this was a hard film to watch the first time, since, being familiar with both David and Solomon's story, my wife and I knew that at some point the Jed's happy story was going to take a devastating, self-sabatoging turn. We actually ended up watching it in two nights, the first with all the fun romantic joking and giddiness between him and Rose. We shut it off right before Jed was set to make his stupid devastating decisions (it wasn't hard to tell when that was going to happen). Then the next evening, we could start off with that short bit of ugliness, and then ride out the end of the movie where we got to see his life impacted by undeserved, but gratefully recieved grace. 

CAUTIONS

Even though we don't really see anything, the mature topic matter means this is not a film for children. Underscoring that point, it begins with a two-minute overview of the lowlights of David King's life. We see Jed's father singing on the Grand ol' Ole Opry, and later catching his bandmate's wife swimming naked in a lake (paralleling David seeing Bathsheba). They try to cover up the pregnancy that follows by getting her husband drunk. While King David kills Uriah, in the film the husband, upon learning of his friend's and wife's betrayal, commits suicide. Thankfullly that is all over and done with in a quick montage in the opening minutes. 

CONCLUSION

Some films are gritty for the sake of being gritty. This is gritty for the sake of being true. But it is also funny, romantic, rousing, thought-provoking, and toe-taping for the same reason: because that's what life is like too. I feel like I didn't give this film the pitch it deserved, so I'm going to link to a few other reviews so you can get a second and third opinion. 

Variety (a secular publication)

If you want to dig into the film further, here's a list of some of the biblical references throughout the film. You can check out the trailer below, and rent it online at Amazon and other online streaming services.


Friday, November 13, 2020



Drama 
1939 / 112 minutes 
Rating: 6/10

Based loosely on the Alexander Dumas story of the same name, it takes place 20 years after Dumas' more famous The Three Musketeers novel. The opening is the French palace, where the Queen has just given birth to son Louis. The King now has an heir so his court and the whole country are caught up in celebration. However, back in the Queen's chambers the doctor and nursemaid are still at work because, so it turns out, the Queen was carrying twins. When the younger prince Philippe is delivered, the news is kept secret, for he presents a problem: so long as Philippe lives he is sure to become a tool that unscrupulous sorts will use against his older brother. The King and his closest advisors all agree, this boy will be the cause of civil war. 

So what's to be done? Baby Philippe is packed off with the King's most trusted friend and the greatest of the musketeers, D'Artagnan, to raise as his own son. The boy is never to know who his true father is. 

Fast forward twenty years and the older Louis has been king since he was five. Indulged since that young age he has grown to become a wicked tyrant, so much so that he thinks nothing of arresting his father's closest friends, including D'Artagnan. When Philippe gets arrested too, the king discovers their startling resemblance. Knowing no reason for it – the birth of his brother has been kept a secret from him too – he decides to use Philippe as a body double. He's learned his unhappy subjects are planning to assassinate him, and he sees in Philippes's appearance an opportunity to redirect the danger to this other! However, there are now two in the palace playing the part of the King, and that is one too many. As the title shares, there's an iron mask involved at one point, but I'll stop here lest I give away too much.

CAUTIONS

The twists and turns caused by one actor playing two roles confused our youngest. But hitting the pause button to get her back up to speed was all it took to help her. There is some swordplay, but of a near G-rated sort. At one point a man is whipped, just off-screen. We see the whip hit him, not directly, but in the shadows on the wall, and our sensitive girls wanted to know if the whipping was actually happening...and we could assure them it was not. 

Another consideration is that the King has both a wife-to-be and a girlfriend on the side. His lasciviousness is never shown on screen – the most anyone does in this film is get kissed on the forehead – but parents will have to explain how her presence tells us what kind of flawed character the King is.

CONCLUSION

I don't think anyone in our family would give this two thumbs up, though I think we'd probably all give it one – all of us found bits of the film we quite enjoyed. My wife likes to learn about historical settings, and appreciates being exposed to a famous story she hadn't heard before. The kids were intrigued by the whole identical twin angle with one actor playing both parts. All of us loved the sword fights. But I'll also add, my girls were a bit freaked out by the scenes with the man in the iron mask, and my wife was really disgusted by the evil Louis. So this isn't the sort of black and white film you should pitch to people who aren't used to black and white films. However, for those of us raised on such fare, this is a solid outing. 

While there doesn't seem to be a movie trailer available online, the clip before will give you a feel for the film's quite tame, cartoon-like violence. You can watch it for free by clicking here (though it might have commercials).