Judge Daniel Carlton thought this was another Lance Armstrong documentary. Boy was he surprised!
God willed it.
Godspeed is one of the best independent films I have seen in 2010. The cinematography is gorgeous and the actors deliver exceptional performances that will leave me thinking about the film for days. Combine that with some grisly sequences and this thriller does not disappoint.
Facts of the Case
Faith healer Charlie Shepherd makes his living by healing the sick. Although he talks the talk, he doesn't walk the walk. His marriage to wife Rebecca is on shaky ground and he relies heavily on alcohol to keep his world afloat. While sleeping with his mistress, thieves break into Charlie's home killing his wife and son. Fast forward six months to a disheveled and downtrodden Charlie, who is now living in a trailer having lost everything including his faith. Along comes Sarah, a stranger who is hoping she can persuade Charlie to come heal her father. What Charlie doesn't know is that this new found friend will be the link between himself and the murderers of his family.
Generally when I hear that a film is independent, my expectations are lowered considerably. I have come to expect less than competent acting (Slacker) and a level of forced drama that often leaves me gagging (Rachel Getting Married). That which hopes to come across as natural seldom does. Up until recent years, independent films were often poor in picture quality because the higher quality methods of capturing an image were not affordable, but with digital filmmaking now within the grasp of even the lowest of budgets, directors have the tools to make a beautiful looking film. Godspeed did exactly that. This was a great looking film, yet had a well constructed story that has helped to renew my faith in the independent film.
Set in rural Alaska, director Robert Saitzyk creates a film whose tone perfectly contrasts the tranquility of the region in which the story takes place. Inside a land of lush mountains and quiet streams comes a chilling tale of unrepentant anger and hate. One of the first scenes involves a murder in one location while a cheating husband is having sex in another. In each location, a person gazes upon the Northern Lights, which flash and change in the night sky. The juxtaposition of the beauty of God's creation against the fallen nature of God's followers is nothing short of brilliant on the part of Saitzyk. This is just an example of the levels to the film. Godspeed is a film which works as a thriller, but allows for much contemplation if desired. Saitzyk allows for much contemplation during the film as nothing is rushed or thrown together. The pace is leisurely, but with a mood of suspense slowly growing in the background.
The two main characters in Godspeed are extreme in their worldviews and these are the religious people that most would consider eccentric, if not scary. Gone are the clichés surrounding most films touching on religion. Gone are the touchy-feely scenes in which characters find the answers by opening their hearts, forgiving others, or turning the other cheek. These believers find the answers at the end of a barrel. Joseph McKelheer flawlessly plays Charlie, the faith healer whose own life is full of hypocrisies. Charlie is full of struggle, a man whose mind is in a constant state of regret and McKelheer portrays that man convincingly. Cory Knauf play Luke, one of the murderer's of Charlie's family, whose cult-like beliefs lead him to justify brutal actions, claiming an action was "God's will." Both actors work the roles with total conviction, a conviction as strong as the characters they take on.
Godspeed somewhat reminded me of That Evening Sun, another exceptional independent film whose protagonist wasn't without glaring character flaws. In both films, these flaws provide a sense of realism to the main character that we seldom see on screen. Both protagonists are likeable, but only to a certain extent, possibly because this unconsciously reminds us of our own imperfections and we recognize that in each "hero" as well. We tend to believe that we see things from a unobstructed viewpoint, but the world we see in Godspeed is not so black and white and doesn't allow for that. It is a world consisting of many shades of grey, a world in which right and wrong are sometimes words without clearly defined meanings. Truth to Luke is vastly different than the basis of truth for Charlie's life, thereby causing us to question their truths. They can't both be right, but what we know that they don't is that they might both be wrong. Charlie misdirects his anger toward God, but the irony is that Luke, the crazier of the two, has an anger founded in reason. I found it interesting that Charlie was the former faith healer, yet the antagonist of the story was named Luke, same as the gospel writer who was a physician by trade. Hmm…
My DVD was a screener copy, so there were no extras to comment on. The disc did have a crisp picture and 5.1 Dolby soundtrack, but as this isn't a final version of the disc, it may differ from the retail version.
Godspeed is a film that was an unexpected pleasure to view and will cross my mind for weeks to come. The story is rich in depth and performances do the screenplay justice.
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