“Come Sunday” Movie Review

In a world cluttered with God’s Not Dead sequels, Kirk Cameron after-school specials, and Nicholas Cage’s Left Behind, along comes a small little film that actually tries to treat faith and religion with respect. Keep in mind that the operative word here is “Tried.” This biographical drama from director Joshua Marston initially premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival to a generally mixed reception. It was later released worldwide on the streaming service Netflix on April 13th. Originally produced by filmmaker Marc Forster, the film is said to be adapted from a 2005 episode of the radio podcast This American Life, with the host Ira Davis hopping on board as a credited producer. The screenplay written by Marcus Hinchey has been in development supposedly since at least 2010, with several potential actors and directors moving in and out. Based on a true story, Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Carlton Pearson, a Pentecostal minister who went on to become one of the most prominent African-American priests in recent history. In the late 1990’s, he briefly becomes disillusioned with his own faith after the suicide of his uncle (Who he had every opportunity to save) and witnessing the Rwandan genocides on T.V. news. Looking to use his televised persona to help give people hope, he begins preaching the radical concept of universal salvation, which implies that all men and women will be forgiven by God in the end. This causes quite a stir within his own tight-knit household and the broader Christian community, particularly his mentor Oral Roberts. Come Sunday is a frustrating movie, but not in the sense of narrative or emotional involvement. After bashing some Netflix Original films earlier this year, here’s a movie that shows that they are still capable of producing higher quality drama. And the fact that they’ve released low-brow “comedies” (Game Over, Man!) and toxic sci-fi thrillers (Mute) instead of picking up more anticipated or acclaimed projects is simply frustrating to cinephiles like myself. And honestly, after a wash of borderline-propaganda films that try to shove Christianity down the throats of audiences, it’s nice to see one that attempts to explore the religion from a secular view. While Come Sunday is undoubtedly interesting and well-acted, there’s a lot left to be desired. Like Martin Scorsese’s Silence, having grown up in a religious household, there was a lot here that I definitely appreciated more. I knew little to nothing of the story prior to pressing “Play,” so watching a man of the cloth portrayed as a real human being was quite refreshing. Similarly, the movie never condescends on the viewer how faith is important to a lot of people, good or bad. There are some individuals who genuinely want to use their religion to help others, as is shown in the opening scene on a plane. The problem is that Joshua Marston gives the whole thing to the audience straight, lacking an emotional punch on the themes. He seems to work well with his actors, but the direction feels kind of bland and holds back on any power in storytelling. You can’t help but feel that the film would have been more satisfying and engaging if it were put in the hands of a more experienced and confident filmmaker. Thankfully, Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in great, subtle work as Bishop Carlton Pearson. Even without saying a word, we can see the deep conflict in his eyes, a good man who is tortured by his own devout faith. Also, Jason Segel is surprisingly great in a dramatic role as Henry, one of the church’s main financial backers. While it could be easy to paint him as close-minded, Segel does respectable work at making him feel understanding of Pearson’s intentions, even if they don’t see eye-to-eye. Similarly, Martin Sheen, who just seems born to play men of the cloth, inkles some sympathy out of Oral Roberts. He personally groomed Carlton for his career and is a constant, if sometimes a frictional voice of help and guidance on the matters at hand. Other actors like LaKeith Stanfield as the church’s closeted organ player, Danny Glover as the Bishop’s doomed uncle, and Condola Rashad as his unfulfilled wife all do great work but don’t quite leave the same impression. And when it comes to the technical aspects of the film, there’s something about it that just feels dry and uninspired. The cinematography by Peter Flinckenberg uses a lot of muted or crushed colors, helping to illustrate the dark reality this story takes place in. The only one that really seems to stand out that much is purple, which is a major part of the Bishop’s clothes and organization. The editing is pretty finely tuned to each scene, with some clever imagery shown here or there. The two elements come together remarkably well in the moments when Pearson is actually delivering his sermons to a diverse crowd. Given the fact that the Pentecostal ministers were being televised during their preaching sessions, it puts the audience right into the moment. Like we’re watching the man give a sermon right before our eyes, in person. Neither outright horrible nor groundbreakingly amazing in any sense, Come Sunday is a well-intentioned but uneven look at sacrifice. It is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of most Netflix Original films so far this year, but still not remarkable enough to give a definite recommendation. Films like these should be made more often, as they’re far better looks at faith and religion than what you might be used to. Director Joshua Marston and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s hearts are in the right place, but it sadly lacks the punch necessary for this story.

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