Judge Brett Cullum was all for a film about pistol-packing black Canadian priests, but this film is freaking spit.
Father Virgil Garrett: I want you to repeat after me. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.
A Canadian Catholic priest, with a Bible in one hand and a semi-automatic 9mm Glock 17 (with silencer) in the other, exacts revenge on the people who gunned down his brother. I have to confess it sounds like a good idea; the perfect set-up for a Steven Seagal movie. Instead, it's an independent film from Ivan Rogers (Caged Women II). Star Home Entertainment is proud to present the story of a faithful black Canuck going all crazy on some evil drug-peddling white people: Forgive Me Father.
Facts of the Case
Father Virgil Garrett (Ivan Rogers) is a priest with a past. He was once a Mob hitman who faked his own death, then enrolled in the seminary. But when his brother is coldly gunned down, it's time for him to throw down the rosary beads and shoot up the bad guys one by one. And just when he thought he found peace and faith, too. It's a basic plot which could best be described as "Father Dowling stars in Death Wish." When Garrett finds his victims, he makes them beg for forgiveness, then riddles them with bullets while muttering something like "God does not forgive you." This is one priest you don't want to meet alone in the confessional.
Let's face it—Catholics kick ass. Whether it's The Exorcist or The Godfather, Catholicism seems to be the religion of choice for men of action who either fight evil or just plain fight. Hell, it worked fine for The Boondock Saints. Now add a black priest to this equation. We're talking something along the lines of Saint Shaft—can you dig it? But hold on…let's make him Canadian. What major studio could possibly pass on a pitch that included all these deadly combinations rolled into one? A brother Father looking for vengeance because someone offed his baby brother, it's "The Catholic Crow" and he's ready to fly. Who could not finance this one?
Obviously, either all the major studios did pass, or Ivan Rogers is a control-freak. (Probably both.) He made Forgive Me Father independently, and decided he would produce, direct, and star in the movie. Now, we have to cut the man some slack, because I understand that his lead actor quit on him, which forced Rogers to step in and take over the role of Virgil. He planned on shooting the film in six weeks, but ultimately it took him two years to get the final product ready to role into multiplexes.
Independent action films are pretty rare, and there's a reason for this. Even if the characters in Sideways decided to rob a bank, it would be hard to finance the shoot and make the special effects comparable to today's CGI-laden John Woo-choreographed action sequences. Ivan Rogers flew in the face of conventional wisdom, and for that we have to give the man props. Unfortunately he took Forgive Me Father too seriously to make it the barrel of fun it should have been. He decided he would play it straight and somber, but instead it ends up descending into true camp as he shoots his way through a gallery of rogues, with Morticia Addams lighting (one slit right at eye level) to make his stares look scary. He tries to mine a noir sensibility, which turns Forgive Me Father into a boring mess at times. And it's no wonder it gets messy. The script was rewritten countless times while they were shooting the film, and actors were quitting the extended project before its completion. In the end, Forgive Me Father really isn't as much fun as it could be, but it's still worth a look if pistol-packing priests interest you.
The film is largely shot on the streets of Ivan Rogers' hometown of Indianapolis. It stars a lot of first-time film actors, such as Chris Elbert and Jeff Bass as the Ransom brothers, who lead the gang Garrett is after. They do get help from veteran character actors like Charles Napier (The Manchurian Candidate (2004) and over a hundred other films) and Rich Komenich (Dragonfly). An interesting method Ivan Rogers employed was shooting scenes at hotels and airports with people unaware the cameras were rolling. So you get some pretty natural street scenes where nobody even looks twice at the black priest strutting around with nice shades on. The special effects are problematic, and often they are too ambitious for the budget. A club exploding is obviously some primitive form of CGI, and a severed head placed on a iron fence looks pretty fake even when filmed during a night scene.
Though the plot's concept is a good one, its execution leaves a little to be desired. The film rambles on way too long. A good ninety minute treatment would have sufficed, but Forgive Me Father clocks in at two hours and twenty minutes. There isn't enough story to justify that running time, so the film feels bloated and drawn out. And then there is some really problematic dialogue. There is hardly any exposition for Virgil's character, and the bad guys prattle on endlessly in profanity-riddled laughable monologues. I can't replicate anything word for word, but let's play a little game here. I am going to replace two common curse words with "freak" and "spit," and transcribe a line for you so you can grasp what I am talking about. This is an actual line from the script, as spoken by a gangster in the film (cleaned up for your enjoyment):
"Holy freaking spit! What the freak is this freaking stupid bullspit all the freak about man? I ain't never seen no freaking spit like this freaking spit. I mean this is some freaking bullspit! Freak! Holy freaking spit. What the freak are we going to do about this freaking spit? What is this freaking spit all about?"
Whoever wrote Scarface (the De Palma version) must be so damn jealous right now. Not only do we get gangsters who curse that much in one line, but we also get tons of Bible verses thrown around for good measure. Virgil Garrett should have been played by Samuel L. Jackson in his Pulp Fiction mode. If Ivan Rogers had gone more Tarantino it would have been fun, but he's not up to that level of dialogue.
Star Home Entertainment is the distributor of this film, and I guess they aren't too well known. I couldn't find Forgive Me Father at my Best Buy or at Amazon, so I think you may have to hit their site if you want to catch it. They give it a classic VHS transfer. It's fullscreen, grainy as hell, has horrible black levels, and made me want to adjust the tracking about every five minutes. It's a bad transfer that at least has some vibrant colors, even though they bleed all over the place. Even the package has grainy, low-resolution screen captures that I thought couldn't possibly be representative of the transfer. Well, they were. The sound mix is in stereo, and dialogue is hopelessly muffled while gunshots are at an ear splitting level. It's pretty bad even for a pretty bad movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is a pretty detailed commentary by Ivan Rogers included as an extra. He tells you how they did every shot and who's in it, and he fills up the entire run time of the movie without skipping a beat or taking a moment. He obviously poured his heart and soul into this movie, and he's got tons to say about it. Unfortunately, a lot of it is pretty trite and obvious, but I appreciate a man who can fly solo on a commentary and keep on talking no matter what. Kudos to him for making his dreams come true. He fashioned himself into an independent action star, and that's a long way from where he started. (He had been a karate champ before making the film.)
Ah, "freak"! This "spit" is kind of interesting if you like action movies along the lines of Death Wish. Hollywood has stopped making those kinds of films, so I guess someone had to pick up the torch, and Ivan Rogers seems primed to do it. Forgive Me Father is an unintentionally laughably bad film that has its moments. Certainly some people will enjoy it. And it's just the image overhaul the Catholic Church needs right about now. It's a bad film with a bad transfer, and the concept was more killer than the movie. But here's to the old college try.
Guilty as sin. Say 5,000 Hail Marys, and make your film shorter and more fun next time. Kudos for passion and creativity, but Forgive Me Father has a lot to do penance for.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Star Home Entertainment
• Commentary by Producer, Director and Star -- Ivan Rogers
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