Hard as Nails

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8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17
HBO

This fascinating HBO feature-length documentary profiles the growing phenomenon that is Justin Fatica, a 29-year-old ordained Catholic minister who appears to be certifiably insane.

His Hard as Nails movement might as well be called Crazy for Christ. Fatica is seen getting so passionate for the Lord that he appears on the verge of violence, and indeed he will stand there while preaching to a group of awestruck young people while a disciple whacks him across the back with a folding metal chair to prove that his belief can block out the pain.

Intense to the point of emotional disconnection, Fatica is shown in the piece directed by David Holbrooke to have at least perfected the art of practicing what he preaches. He's nuts for sure but has somehow also managed to attract a following that's nearly as fanatical as is he as well as a young, pretty wife who notably appears to be normal.

What does it mean when a guy whose break from reality coincides with his spiritual awakening? That is perhaps the key question asked by Holbrooke in his film and is one he can't quite completely answer. Here's a guy whose style is to humiliate a zaftig follower by shouting before the gathered congregation, "She's fat! She's fat!" repeatedly on the theory that her abject humiliation ultimately will help others cope. If that sounds cruel, no one is harder on Fatica than Fatica himself.

He openly talks about what a failure he was before "surrendering it all to God," and now he's got a wife named Mary and a toddler named Joseph. Much of the film is spent focusing on whether the guy truly is an effective evangelist or simply a crackpot in the eyes of the religious community. But as "Hard as Nails" makes abundantly clear, Fatica doesn't claim to walk on water or have all of the answers. He's just trying to make a difference without getting crucified.
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