It may seem strange that I would choose to end my series of reviews of films that feature politics and politicians by reviewing Persecuted, an obscure film from 2014. After all, Shattered Politics started out with D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln. Over the past three weeks, I’ve reviewed everything from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington to The Phenix City Story to Dr. Strangelove to The Godfather to Nashville to Once Upon A Time In America to The Aviator. I have been lucky enough to review some of the greatest films ever made. And now, at the end of this series, I find myself reviewing Persecuted, a film that has a score of 0% over on Rotten Tomatoes.
Consider that for a moment.
As I sit here typing out this sentence, not a single critic has given Persecuted a good review. And I will admit right now that I’m not going to be the first. Persecuted is cheap-looking, heavy-handed, melodramatic, histrionic, foolish, silly, preachy, predictable, strident, and just about every other possible criticism that comes to mind. If the film is redeemed by anything, it’s that it is full of good actors who do the best that they can with characters that are either seriously underwritten or ludicrously overwritten.
Persecuted takes place in the near future. Sen. Donald Harrison (Bruce Davison) has written something called the Faith and Fairness Act, which would basically require churches to provide equal time to other religions and would make it illegal to suggest that only one religion has all the answers. How exactly that would work, I’m not sure. However, a big part of Harrison’s bill is that, in exchange for giving up any claim to having all the answers, churches will now get money from the federal government. As a result, a lot of church leaders have sold out and announced their support for the bill.
However, evangelist John Luther (James Remar) refuses to support the bill. As we’re told when Luther first appears, he’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who used to be a professional gambler. But then he found faith and he’s now the most popular man in the country. Or, at least, he is until he’s drugged by the government and framed for murdering a prostitute.
So now, Luther is on the run. He has to evade capture, prove his innocence, and reveal the truth about Harrison and his shadowy backers. Helping Luther out is his father, an Episcopalian priest who is played by former real-life Presidential candidate Fred Thompson. (Thompson, incidentally, is a very good actor and brings a lot of conviction and authority to his role.) Not helping Luther are the former leaders of his church, one of whom is played by character actor Dean Stockwell.
I’ll admit right now that, as familiar and talented as all four of them may be, James Remar, Bruce Davison, Fred Thompson, and Dean Stockwell are hardly big stars and you really can’t blame any of them for presumably taking a job strictly for the money. That said, it’s still odd to see such good actors appearing in a film like Persecuted and they all deserve at least a little bit of credit for doing their best with the material that they had to work with. However, my favorite performance came from Brad Stine, who plays glib preacher who betrays Luther. Stine is just so sleazy and hyperactive that he’s a lot of fun to watch.
Now, while Persecuted is obviously a faith-based film, it’s plot actually has more in common with the paranoia movies of the 70s than it does with Left Behind. John Luther is a guy who knows the truth and has been framed as a result and he spends nearly the entire film on the run. If anything, this is a film that will probably appeal more to conspiracy theorists than to Christians. But, judging from the film, the conspiracy that’s trying to destroy John Luther doesn’t appear to be very competent. How else do you explain that John Luther — the most famous man in the world — manages to easily evade capture despite the fact that he spends most of the film wandering around in broad daylight with dried blood on his face. At one point, he even calls his wife and has a conversation with her. “Ah!” I thought, “this is where we’ll discover that the conspiracy is listening in on the conversation!” But no, that didn’t happen. In fact, his wife talked to him while, in the background, two cops searched their house. “The police are looking for you,” the wife says but neither one of the police officers seems to hear her. Apparently, it didn’t seem to occur to any of them that John Luther might call his wife. For a paranoia film to work, you have to feel like the film’s hero is in constant danger and Persecuted never succeeded in doing that. How can anyone be scared of a conspiracy that can’t even handle the basics?
Persecuted is not a good film but, in its own unfortunate way, it is a relevant one. Much as how the first film I reviewed for Shattered Politics, D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln, told us a lot about America in the 1930s, Persecuted tells us a lot about how America is viewed by its citizens in the 21st Century. Persecuted is a film that insists that our leaders can’t be trusted, that your friends will betray you if ordered to do so by those in authority, and that everything bad will come disguised as something good. It’s not exactly an optimistic view of politics or America but then again, these are the times that we live in. It’s been a long time since Billy Jack went to Washington. It’s been even longer since Mr. Smith first showed up.
Now, instead, all we have is Bruce Davison telling us, “You thought you were bigger than the system and you’re not!”
And, on that note, Shattered Politics comes to an end! I’ve had a lot of fun writing this series of 94 reviews and I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them! If there’s any conclusion that I think can be drawn from these 94 films, it’s that politicians will always betray you and politics will always depress you but movies will always be there to lift you back up.
If I had to choose between voting and watching a movie, I would pick a movie every time. Fortunately enough, I live in a country where I am allowed to do both.