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A rare film dealing with Christian evangelism in a realistic way that neither mocks nor proselytizes, New Jerusalem quietly observes as a man tries to comfort his troubled best friend by bringing him to Jesus. The second collaboration between director R. (Rick) Alverson and screenwriter Colm O’Leary (their third, The Comedy, beat this one into New York theaters two weeks ago), the intimate film would have arthouse potential even without cult-beloved Will Oldham as costar.
Set in Richmond, Virginia, it finds Sean (O’Leary), an Irish immigrant who worked for the U.S. National Guard in Afghanistan before moving here and finding work in a tire shop. Coworker Ike (Oldham) has become his closest friend, spending downtime between greasy chores engaged in vaguely but not provocatively political conversations. Shortly after one of these, Sean has a kind of quiet panic attack, isolating himself and grappling with something that’s never quite explained.
Ike, a believer who prays silently before meals and doesn’t make a secret of his faith, is convinced that religion is Sean’s sole path to peace. Oldham easily finds the balance between his character’s sincere empathy for a suffering man and his stubborn, but never self-righteous, belief that his answer is the right one; it’s a blend seen much less often onscreen than in the real world. O’Leary makes Sean an uncommon conversion target, as well: Though clearly skeptical, he neither rebuffs nor embraces Ike’s positions.
Some of Ike’s gestures would scare others away — he makes a homemade audiobook of the Gospel of John for his friend — but they’re never played for comic effect. When, after attending a religious service together, he evokes the gospels by washing Sean’s feet, the dynamic between the two actors is so finely balanced it’s impossible to accuse the film of siding with one character over the other.
Production Company: The Made Bed Productions
Cast: Colm O’Leary, Will Oldham, Walter Scott, Roxanne Ferris, Thomas Bowles
Director-Director of photography-Editor: R. Alverson
Screenwriter: R. Alverson, Colm O’Leary
Producers: R. Alverson, Courtney Bowles
Executive producers: Chris Swanson, Darius Van Arman, Jonathan Cargill, Ben Swanson
Music: Champ Bennett, Robert Donne
No rating, 92 minutes
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