Lord Save Us From Your Followers -- Film Review

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
NEW YORK -- Like a more genial, "balanced" version of "Religulous," "Lord Save Us From Your Followers" covers similar ground about religious hypocrisy in the modern Western world while also giving due deference to the followers' side of the argument, affirming true Christianity. In its way, Dan Merchant's documentary sheds greater light than the Bill Maher movie on the subject of Christians not acting Christian, but because of the evenhandedness, "Lord Save Us" might not satisfy any faction of the so-called culture wars.

Without the Maher name and star power, "Lord Save Us" will never garner the same media attention or boxoffice profits. It also is hard to know toward what audience this film is aimed. At the very least, though, lay people interested in the nexus of religion, politics and popular culture should find the film a resourceful if jumbled text.

Merchant is neither as witty nor as charismatic as Maher, but he is less arrogant and gains considerably more access through his nonthreatening manners and questioning. Thus, we get friendly, contrasting interviews with liberal new Sen. Al Franken and conservative ex-Sen. Rick Santorum, liberal evangelist Tony Campolo and conservative radio host Michael Reagan. Likewise, there are archival video and audio clips of the usual "culture war" suspects: Jerry Falwell, Rick Warren, Ann Coulter, Bono and, yes, Maher.

Merchant also interviews men- and women-on-the-street in several different cities.
Merchant is lightly and briefly critical of some of the louder, crasser celebrities and pundits as part of an effort to bring everyday people together to have polite discourse and search for consensus. The last section of the film emphasizes this by showing the odd-couple pairings of George Clooney and Pat Robertson and George W. Bush and Bono doing good works and saying nice things about each other.

The pollyanna approach steers clear of the controversies and hypocrisies in the lives and careers of these folks. So those looking for exposes on Bush, Warren or the pope won't find them here.

The highlights of the film are Merchant's nonscientific experiments: a "Culture Wars" game show that reveals how secularists know more about Christians than the other way around; and a "Confession Booth" (in which Merchant apologizes for religious intolerance) that becomes surprisingly popular with the passersby at a gay pride parade. This section of the film is the most moving and memorable.

The lack of penetrating ideas or narrative structure are minor faults of "Lord Save Us" compared to the uneasy way the film finds moral equivalency amongst the participants. For all his folksiness, Merchant seems too savvy to believe that Janeane Garofalo is as obnoxious or vicious as Ann Coulter. Even the clips Merchant uses inadvertently prove that point.

The title "Lord Save Us From Your Followers" suggests a much harder-hitting film than the one at hand. Fortunately, there are enough choice moments to mitigate the disappointment. In today's charged and ominous political atmosphere, moviegoers could do much worse than getting a lesson in civility.

Opens: Friday, Sept. 25 (Thunderstruck Films)
Production: A Zacchaeus Film Group, Thunderstruck Films and Bent Pyramid Prods. presentation of a Lightning Strikes Entertainment production
Director: Dan Merchant
Producers: Jon Manning, Dan Merchant
Executive Producers: Jeff Martin, Tim Abare, Norm Miles
Directors of photography: James Standridge
Editor: James Standridge
Original Score: Stephen Phillips, Tim P
Rated PG-13 , 99 minutes
comments powered by Disqus