The Heretic (2018)

Reviewed
Tue. 3/6/18
The Heretic (2018)
3.6666666666667
Acting
4
4/5
Morality
4.5
4.5/5
Music
3.5
3.5/5
Story
3.5
3.5/5
Visuals
3.5
3.5/5
Kernel Factor
3
3/5
A compelling struggle with faith, tradition, and meaning
Reviewed By: Steven Siwek
Viewing Environment:
DVD or Streaming <27in
Viewing Crew:
Myself
Times Watched:
1
Genre:
Documentary
Payment Method:
Stream/Netflix
Review:

My first film was a documentary about the Christian Church and the ways I hoped it would, in many ways, wake up to the world in which it found itself. So for me, documentaries like this are hard to grade because I feel close to the subject matter and probably always will. For starters, "The Heretic" is very accessible for audiences, BUT you do have to actually care about life's spiritual journey. If the audacious and strange journey of life, its ups and downs, doesn't appeal to you, then this film won't move you much. Rob Bell is someone I've "known about" for a long time. I've never read a Rob Bell book, but I've seen most of his NOOMA videos and I've actually heard him speak in person a couple of times. He's absolutely a compelling speaker. For the pastors that I know who have read him or know him, they are usually convinced he is either a heretic or at least a false prophet. This film is titled "The Heretic" for that very reason, and it quickly (probably too quickly) tries to set the record straight on Rob Bell. He's a good guy who wants good things for everybody. Although that story mostly shines through I think I'm left with a lot of wanting to understand the details of his beliefs. The average person, who probably doesn't want to dive into all the doctrine and theological debates, might not care, which is why the film is accessible. But, as a Christian and someone who cares deeply about Christ's love in our world, I'm left wanting from Rob Bell. His message in many ways is "easy" whereas I find Christ's message to be "hard". I would certainly encourage you to pray before watching this film. One last note before we dive in, you should know the definition to the word "solidarity" before watching.

Acting
Rob Bell is so interesting that I found myself taking notes throughout the movie. I think there is so much good in what he says that is and will be hard for pastors or church leaders who are invested in the current model to accept. Still, I don't agree with everything he says, but you have to listen carefully. Overall, he is the film's character. I think the documentary team, led by Andrew Morgan, made one bad move in establishing Rob and that is there are too many people speaking about Rob's character and on behalf of Rob. It's a Rob love-fest as the film kicks off, and it goes too long. Especially because I was waiting through the entire film for a thoughtful confrontation to his character or beliefs and it never came. They really needed that to add some dynamics to the storytelling. For these two reasons I dock the film one kernel in Acting.
Morality
The F-word is dropped a few times, which to me is sort of expected, but might surprise some audiences. I think the journey to better understand God and Jesus is good, and hopefully will stir up questions within you.
Music
Good music. I know it was custom, but it sounded like stock (not a bad thing). Overall, good placement and good music, but nothing overly special. 
Story
We travel around with Rob as he speaks and offers his thoughts to us (audience) and to theaters/clubs throughout America. We essentially follow a narrative that Rob was a famous pastor and then became a "radical" or "heretic" thanks to his views on God. In the years since his "fall-out" we find a very intellectual Rob who constantly uses metaphors and stories to explain life's deepest feelings and mysteries. I think Rob confronts a lot of things that people in the Church do not want to confront, and he does so in a way that resonates with me. For Rob, everyone is searching for meaning and therefore is open to a conversation about spirituality. It doesn't seem like there are many absolutes for Rob, but that's why I'm left wanting - I don't actually know what he believes. I've got a good framework for what he thinks, but I felt like we needed to go deeper in the film. Another 15-minutes wouldn't have hurt. As for the Story aspect it clearly needed to show the other side's point of view (especially to claim the title "Heretic"). Also, the beginning of the film is really clipping along but then it starts to slow down dramatically over the last 30-minutes mostly because it's Rob's speaking footage after speaking footage with little to no commentary in between. It could definitely be boring if you are not in the thinking kind of mood.
Visuals
The point of a documentary is simply to "be there." Capture the moments the average person can't see and tell/show something interesting. They accomplished this aspect, but not much else. They relied heavily on conference footage as almost a primary driver to the film's narrative, which was fine. Good usage of third-party imagery/footage. 
Kernel Factor
The very last scene is beautiful and appropriate, but the lead up to the ending should have been removed or reconfigured. In the lead up to the ending, Rob goes on a soapbox about not selling out theaters after his book "Love Wins" released in 2011. For audiences who question his motives to begin with this scene is not going to go well. I could very well argue this scene from the other angle and say, "look how hard it is to do something that you believe in, even when others call you a 'heretic'. Look at how the powerful Church can oust you." And although I empathize with that perspective I don't ultimately side with it. It just doesn't feel right. In the end, however, I'm moved by this film and the ways in which it offers a fresh take on the journey of faith (in a good way). As Rob states, "The modern world cuts you off from the depth of life...but there is fullness you can have. In fact, you already have it, even though we are constantly working for it. You are loved exactly as you are."

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