Do You Believe?
Jesus' sacrifice on the cross grants forgiveness, Pastor Matt tells his congregation. But what does it demand of those who embrace it? Or, as he says, "If you believe ... what are you going to do about it?" That's the core question in the next film from the producers of 2014's Christian-movie hit God's Not Dead.
Matt's the first to wrestle with that question in this ensemble drama that weaves together the stories of more than a dozen characters—some of whom are already believers in Christ, some who aren't there yet.
On his way home one night, Matt has a serendipitous encounter with a witness named Malachi who's shouldering a life-sized cross through Chicago, preaching the gospel to anyone who'll listen. "Do you believe in the cross of Christ?" Malachi asks Matt at a stop sign. "I'm a pastor," Matt replies. "You didn't answer the question," Malachi counters.
Their conversation is interrupted by shattering glass as four toughs steal a van. Malachi confronts them, prompting their leader—a gangbanger named Kriminal—to put a gun to Malachi's head and ask if he's ready to die. "I'm ready," Malachi responds unflinchingly. "Are you?"
That fearless act of faith is the first domino in a chain of events that ultimately influences everyone in the film.
Matt's convicted by Malachi's spiritual fortitude, so much so that he decides to help a pregnant, homeless teen he sees rummaging in a dumpster. Matt's wife, Grace, isn't happy about him bringing the girl home, so they agree to put young Maggie up in a hotel ... and agonize over what their responsibility to her is. We then see Grace's frustration give way to compassion as the older, infertile woman helps the desperate younger one during the final weeks of her pregnancy.
Meanwhile, someone else's conscience has been pricked by Malachi's witness: Kriminal's younger brother, Percy. As Kriminal and his crew plot a hit on a rival gang, seeds of faith take root in Percy's heart ... and begin to change his values.
From there one plot point after another jumps into the raging stream of interlocking coincidences.
Otherwise known as providence.
J.D. and Terri, retired members of Matt's church, have grappled for years with the loss of their daughter to a drunk driver. A second sermon from Matt about the cross spurs them to relinquish their grief and take action, opening their doors to a homeless woman named Samantha and her young daughter, Lily, who've struggled since the death of Samantha's husband.
The janitor at the church (who Samantha and Lily meet in the emergency room of a local hospital) goes out of his way to offer hospitality to the down-on-their-luck mom and daughter ... never mind that Joe's "luck" has hardly been any better.
And another congregant, Bobby, is an EMT who leads a dying man to Christ. Even when he finds himself in legal jeopardy after the man's widow files suit against him for proselytizing, Bobby refuses to budge on his beliefs, though his wife (a nurse named Elena) is aghast that her husband would risk his job and their finances "merely" to maintain his spiritual integrity.
The tension in Bobby and Elena's marriage is complicated further by the unexpected arrival of Elena's younger brother, Carlos, a retired Marine whose traumatic experiences in Afghanistan have left him with debilitating PTSD. He's on a bridge and almost ready to jump when he glimpses a young woman on the other side who's contemplating the same self-destructive choice after being abandoned by her father. Instead of jumping, they get coffee—and swap hard stories.
Speaking of bridges, the very same one Carlos and Lacy contemplated hurling themselves from becomes the focal point for the film's finale, linking most of these believers and seekers together in a life-or-death moment that demands all the active faith they can muster.
There's plenty of positive, inspirational content here, with most of it closely associated with characters' faith (which we'll look at in "Spiritual Content"). One of the few players whose positive actions aren't obviously Christian is Carlos. He's paralyzed by memories of not helping a fellow soldier who died, then beats back those tormenting memories by rescuing several other people. Maggie tells Grace her stepmother wanted her to get an abortion, but that she felt the baby kick and fled the clinic before the procedure.
We hear (and see, via wooden crosses that Pastor Matt gives his parishioners) repeated references to Jesus Christ, His sacrifice and the need both to accept Him and live for Him.
For Matt and Grace, that means helping Maggie through her pregnancy. It's a tough path for Grace, her tears telling us how much she longs for her own baby. But she humbly counsels Maggie and even goes to her ultrasound appointment with her. Maggie, for her part, is considering giving up the child for adoption and believes that Matt and Grace would be ideal parents. After a traumatic accident on the way to the hospital, Grace helps Maggie pray and accept Christ.
For J.D. and Terri, putting feet to their faith means volunteering at a soup kitchen. After hearing Samantha and Lily's hard story, J.D. heads out in a driving nighttime rainstorm and finds mom and daughter huddled together in their car. He invites them to move in (filling the room the couple's beloved daughter once lived in).
Joe's beliefs continually motivate him to make thoughtful, sacrificial choices. He gives up his spot in line for Lily at the ER. He gives Samantha and Lily keys to his apartment for the night (before they meet J.D. and Terri), sleeping on a bench outside to make room for them. He also plays a key role in encouraging Percy—who's running from police with a bag of money—to stick around for a church service. Thus, Percy hears the gospel for the second time and prays for God's forgiveness. And then he tries to explain his newborn faith to his brother.
Bobby does everything he can to save someone who's been crushed by a huge pipe during a construction accident, then helps the injured man ask for Christ's forgiveness before he dies. That infuriates the man's wife, a self-proclaimed humanist, who aggressively seeks to have Bobby punished. Bobby believes he must tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth in a court hearing, even if it costs his family everything. (Elena wants him to modify his story, but eventually comes to share her husband's convictions.)
Bobby also heroically rescues the lawyer who's making his life miserable, which prompts her to reconsider Christianity. Likewise, her boyfriend, the critical and unbelieving Dr. Farrell (who works with Elena), keeps having encounters with people whose faith gives them courage and strength in the face of adversity and death.
[Spoiler Warning] One such character is Joe, who is dying of cancer. In fact, he does die … only to come back to life several minutes later, saying he's been healed. It's an event that deepens little Lily's faith and helps Samantha and Elena embrace faith, too.
It's easy to spot the large life lesson here—that Christians should demonstrate their faith. The film begins with this portion of James 2:17: "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." And in two sermons, Matt fleshes out that truth, telling his congregation that if they answer the question "Do you believe?" affirmatively, they have to do something about it. "Belief requires action," he preaches. "Belief takes you to your knees, then brings you to your feet."
Bobby and Elena kiss. Maggie is pregnant.
Kriminal points a gun at two men (separately) and threatens to kill them. (Both of his victims are Christians who say they're ready to die if need be.) Elsewhere, he and his gang crash a van into a house, and we see flashes of gunfire. Two other shootouts result in injury and a death. Kriminal angrily throws his brother against a wall. Kriminal and Percy evade police in a reckless chase, first in a car, then on foot. A huge, multi-car accident is filmed quite realistically, with crumpling metal, shattering glass, and airbags slamming occupants back and bruising their faces. One car nearly plunges into the water, another explodes (shortly after someone's pulled out). A woman bleeds to death.
Seeing scars on Lacy's wrists from a past suicide attempt, a doctor accuses her of trying to again kill herself by eating something she was allergic to. Lacy and Carlos stand on a bridge and look down over the railing as they come right up to the threshold of jumping.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Two people drink wine on one occasion.
Other Negative Elements
It's clearly not the wisest course of action for Percy to give stolen money to Matt or for Matt to accept it—even hesitantly. (We do see the consequences, though, when Matt's violently confronted by Percy's brother, Kriminal, who comes to reclaim the cash.)
Faith in Christ can sometimes get reduced to an idea that excites us or a feeling that warms us. Do You Believe? begs believers to remember that faith was never supposed to be just an idea or a feeling, but a conviction that transforms the way we live day to day, a belief that reshapes our values and choices.
If that sounds like a sermon you might hear in church, well, that's because some of the most important scenes in Do You Believe? actually are sermons in a church. And the balance of the film works like an illustration for those sermons, offering images of what such a faith might look like when it's wholly embraced and acted upon.
At times those dramatic sermon illustrations intentionally cross over into melodrama, as if to more directly drive their points home. And as many movies (and especially Christian movies) often do, Do You Believe? ties up its narrative loose ends in something akin to happily ever after—something that doesn't always happen quite so quickly in real life.
But the conflicts most of these characters face are real: a soldier haunted by his failure in combat, a pregnant teen running away from home, a young woman devastated by her father's abandonment, an aging couple gripped by grief over their daughter's untimely death, a widow and her daughter who find themselves thrust into homelessness. And the conflict-resolution cycles surrounding them remind us that our lives matter to God, that forgiveness and redemption are gifts He wants to offer and that receiving those gifts comes with the responsibility, as the Apostle Paul put it in Ephesians, of "living a life worthy of the calling you have received."
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Ted McGinley as Matthew; Tracy Lindsey Melchior as Grace; Madison Pettis as Maggie; Mira Sorvino as Samantha; Makenzie Moss as Lily; Brian Bosworth as Joe; Lee Majors as J.D.; Cybill Shepherd as Teri; Delroy Lindo as Malachi; Shwayze as 'Pretty Boy' Percy; Senyo Amoaku as Kriminal; Mavrick Von Haug as Nefarius; Valerie Dominguez as Elena; Liam Matthews as Bobby; Joseph Julian Soria as Carlos; Alexa PenaVega as Lacy; Sean Astin as Dr. Farrell; Andrea Logan White as Andrea
Jonathan M. Gunn ( )
Pure Flix Entertainment
March 20, 2015
August 4, 2015