One man holds the answer
Life in the small town of Auburn is nothing special. People go about their daily lives, barely interacting, waiting for the one magic moment when, perhaps, a little happiness will shine down on them. All of that changes one day when a stranger comes to town. His name is Joshua. Passing by the crumbling ruins of a Baptist church destroyed in a storm, he decides to settle down and help the community rebuild. He rents the barn of a couple whose marriage is troubled and sets himself out as an artisan, a wood carver and carpenter. The friendly and jovial Father Pat and the stern, strict Father Tardone learn of Joshua's skills and commission him to create a statue of Saint Peter. Individual after distressed individual comes to help Joshua rebuild the church. Together, they grow as a community. After Joshua challenges the faith healing skills of an evangelist (and then proceeds to show him how a true miracle is performed), his reputation as a "maybe" messiah spreads throughout the community. And Father Tardone is wary of this adulation and worship. Fearing Joshua may have other, more insidious motivations for coming to Auburn, he challenges his "followers" to see through his gentle, caring ways to the truth that drives him. But when another divine phenomenon occurs after a terrible accident on the building site, Father Tardone has no choice but to contact Rome. He wants to challenge Joshua's prophetic mannerisms in front of the Holy Father himself. Joshua accepts.
It's hard to say if Joshua is a completely successful movie. It is indeed a good-hearted film, with many wonderful and genuine performances. It stays steadfast in its beliefs and never attempts to undersell. This is faith-based fiction offered in a stylized, sympathetic manner. And yet it somehow fails to fully ignite. There is no real burning passion here, no real religious spark. Characters who proclaim their faith simply state it. It's hard to accept that they truly, deeply feel it. Part of this may be because of the acting challenge involved in selling deep religious conviction without looking like a zealot. The other may be that Joshua doesn't really want to dwell on the nature of faith. Sure, it wants to discuss it, even show it. But when it comes to involving the audience in it, the movie stalls. It wants to honestly promote the wonderful healing powers of God's love, but can't seem to achieve this without resorting to preaching. There is a scene at a Christian rock concert/service that stops the entire drama dead in its footsteps for a shallow hard sell message about letting Christ into your heart. Up until this point, the tone has been light, and the ideas buried in feel good gifts and genuine interpersonal emotion. But here, the sermon is heavy handed and overpowering. For those who have little conviction in God, or the calling to service in and for the church, this movie will seem like a long, boring ABC After Sunday School Special about the nice man who came to town and made people happy by carving them little wooden trinkets and saying that they were loved and unique. Those who believe will see the movie as nothing short of stupendous, portraying the individual relationship to God in a manner that is almost never seen in entertainment.
While imperfect, this film has a power that stems from its dedicated call in its premise. The idea of Christ returning to earth, if not to immediately spread Armageddon, but kind of as a devotional "tune up," has always seemed an intriguing dramatic foundation. What would he do if he came back? Would he strive for world peace, or halt the wars of terror and misunderstandings? The answer here is no and it's probably the true, right answer. If Christ was to return (and it would not be a spoiler to say that Joshua is indeed Christ revisiting his children) it makes logical sense to start small, win the hearts of a few, and then hope through belief that the message spreads to many. The miracles are minor, not meant to solidify faith but to reward the faithful (the blind girl) and continue God's service to his people. As embodied by Tony Goldwin, the character of Joshua is easy to accept as the potential returned savior. He wears love and empathy on his open, expressive face and his voice resonates with a hidden power and compassion. As Father Pat, Kurt Fuller is good, if not a little corny, in what is basically the role of Jesus' number one fan. And F. Murray Abraham is tired and strident the majority of time he is on the screen. He is the villain, given little to do except be villainous. But at the end when confronted with Joshua's true identity and selflessness, the reasons why he won the Oscar for Amadeus come shining forth. There is great, profound power in those few acting moments. The performances, along with the confidence in its message and foundation are what make Joshua a very enjoyable, special little film.
In the end, Joshua will be what you accept it as. Aside from some awkward secondary characters and a wandering beginning, the film has a rare spiritual power and a controversial, compelling storyline. If you let down your jaded melodramatic guard and allow it into your cinematic sensibilities, you are sure to be won over. That is why consumers should demand that the Lord render a deadly pox on Artisan and all who dwell within their DVD manufacturing house for how rotten it treats this good, decent film. First, we get an open full frame mess of a transfer, filled with artifacting, defects, pixelization, and compression. It's as if Joshua was the "before" in some DVD class on the "Right and Wrong" way of digital mastering. The picture is terrible. Also the decision to go with a decidedly Christian rock score really undermines the film's beauty, even if the Dolby Digital sound is very good. Scenes that could have benefited from a lush, pictorial undercurrent are rendered cheap and discordant the minute Jehovah and the Blowfish songs start pouring from the speakers. As for extras, Artisan hints at what the film COULD have looked like, had intelligent people and not half-dead lepers worked on the product. The trailers and TV spots are presented in widescreen, and look gorgeous and epic compared to the full screen foolishness. We also get an interesting bit of information on the cast and crew and a making of documentary that, for thirty plus minutes, delves into the reasons, the casting, and the philosophy behind the project. While a little self-congratulatory, it also provides some interesting anecdotes and highlights the challenges of bringing a religious based work to the screen. Joshua is a special movie. It will raise questions of belief and believability within you. While not a masterwork by any stretch of the cinematic imagination, it is still a gentle, beguiling movie and a strong pronouncement in the joy of Christ's love and sacrifice.
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Scales of Justice
• Joshua: Behind the Scenes Featurette
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