Note: A review copy of this movie was sent in exchange for a review. It releases today, and you can look for a local showing here.
It isn’t often I’m sent a movie to review that I get excited about. Holy Rollers was an exception, as were the films by the same director. But those were documentaries. When it comes to fiction, I’ve found them lacking.
But watch the trailer for Beyond the Mask and tell me it doesn’t at least look like it deserves a shot.
And so I gave it a shot. My conclusion, in a nutshell, before we get to the review proper? I’d see it again, but probably wouldn’t purchase the film. That’s actually saying quite a bit.
The Review Proper
With a Hans Zimmer-esque score (no, really, at one point I’m pretty sure we were listening to a remix of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme), the movie actually holds up in production value. Our protagonist–best known, perhaps, simply as Protagonist, since he shifts names a couple of times–begins the movie as a sniper/assassin for the East India Trading Company sometime in 1775 or so. He is on a mission to switch an incriminating report with a false, positive one. The mission is a success, and he tells his boss that he is done. Protagonist would rather settle down with the money he’s already been promised. Predictably, the boss isn’t happy (attempting to send our Protagonist to America for some other job, at three times the pay) and orders him killed.
Of course, Protagonist survives, despite being shot, and takes papers and a cross from a clergyman who was travelling with him. He arrives at a nearby town unconscious on his horse, rescued by a pretty woman and her family.
And so Protagonist became a vicar.
If that all sounds interesting, you’re right. Up until this point, I was consistently impressed by the film. The acting is solid (aside from a few minor parts), it is shot professionally, and I was getting invested in the characters.
From here, good old Protagonist falls for the Girl-Who-Saved-Him, who primarily hesitates because her preacher speaks of God in uncertain terms. Protagonist is, in fact, something akin to nearly-believing-but-still-agnostic. He’s convinced he should prove he loves God to win the Girl-Who-Saved-Him, but then his history as a murderer is revealed. Girl-Who-Saved-Him does not take this well.
Protagonist escapes death narrowly again, and heads to America (where he knows Girl-Who-Saved-Him will be going, in addition to his old boss, who he is intent on thwarting).
If this still sounds interesting, excellent. I’m still right there with you.
This is where the film loses me, though, at least a bit. I don’t want to spoil it, because I actually think you should watch it. But the next 45 or so minutes borrows in pace and aesthetic from so many things, I was overwhelmed.
One minute, Protagonist was Batman. The next he was running across rooftops and being chased by soldiers like he was in Assassin’s Creed. Of course, he’s still suave love interest, and somewhere along the way he becomes best friends with Benjamin Franklin. Oh, and Protagonist is already an expert at the whole electricity thing that Franklin is experimenting with.
And then Protagonist follows through on a terrible plan to win the Girl-Who-Saved-Him. He lets people die, just so his heroic action will take place in front of her.
Girl-Who-Saved-Him became Girl-Who-Won-Me-Over when she told him he was an idiot for attempting to win love by letting people die. Then, shortly after, she reverted to Girl-Who-Saved-Him when Protagonist became Jesus-Loving-Protagonist.
Then Jesus-Loving-Protagonist lets the bad guy die (couldn’t kill him, after all) and, literally, makes sure America is born.
In short, the latter half of the movie gets convoluted. I still enjoyed it, but the movie feels like it should end, and then it keeps going, at least twice.
The major problems we often face in self-proclaimed Christian Films are mostly avoided: there isn’t a sermon (despite having a preacher in the movie!), there isn’t a long explanation of the Gospel said as much to the audience as to the character, and there isn’t even really a ‘Christian celebrity’ cameo just to get people to come see the film. Despite all of this, the movie doesn’t shy away from Christianity–Girl-Who-Saved-Him won’t marry him if he doesn’t really believe in Jesus, and Protagonist only really becomes selfless and heroic when he becomes Jesus-Loving-Protagonist. Christianity has actual transforming power in this movie (even if, once Girl-Who-Saved-Him is convinced Protagonist is saved, she sort of starts ignoring the law a bit). That’s a good thing to see in a movie with mostly-solid action scenes (the choreography is a bit off), good music (if extremely reminiscent of Hans Zimmer), and convincing acting (outside of a few characters; I’m looking at you, Mom-of-Girl-Who-Saved-Him).
All that to say, you should see the movie. If only to encourage the studio to make another movie.