Monday, June 29, 2015

Born Again (1978)

          This milquetoast religious drama credits Jesus with the redemption of lawyer-turned-Nixon-advisor Charles Colson, who was convicted and imprisoned for his role in the Watergate cover-up. Based on Colson’s book, the movie takes its title from Colson’s conversion to fundamental Christianity in the period between his departure from the White House and his entrance into a federal work farm. Viewers are asked to believe that the Charles Colson who naïvely followed Nixon’s orders was a different man from the Charles Colson who bravely accepted responsibility for crimes against the U.S. Constitution. And if this sounds like an awfully convenient explanation, then, well, who ever knows the truth of what happens inside another man’s soul?
          Written and shot in the perfunctory style of an assembly-line TV movie, Born Again stars Dean Jones—best known for a string of silly Walt Disney comedies—as Colson. His performance is adequate at best, because whenever Jones peels off his glasses to cradle his face in his hands and weep, he seems more robotic than sincere. Like Jones’ performance, the script by Walter Bloch depicts Colson’s conversion without actually making a case for why viewers should believe what they’re seeing. During the heat of the Watergate investigation, Colson’s rich friend Tom Phillips (Dana Andrews) explains that he was born again after realizing that wealth is an empty reward. This encounter flicks a switch in Colson’s mind. Overnight, he begins spouting Bible passages. He also builds bridges with onetime political enemies who share his love for Jesus. By the time Colson is an inmate, leading Bible-study lessons and wooing African-American criminal Jimmy Newsom (Ramond St. Jacques) to the bosom of the lord, the whole movie feels a bit silly, especially since scene after scene is underscored with saccharine music.
          Yet the most egregious shortcoming of Born Again might be the way the filmmakers lay all the blame for Colson’s problems solely on Nixon. After all, wasn’t the lesson of Watergate that we need to beware political conspiracies, not just overzealous individuals? And doesn’t the suggestion that Nixon was some earthly agent of the devil absolve people like Colson of personal responsibility? With all due respect to the faithful people who made this movie—which was coproduced by an entity called Prison Fellowship Ministries—briskly discarding issues of ambition, complicity, greed, moral relativism, and willful ignorance seems both rhetorically and socially dubious.

Born Again: LAME

1 comment:

Groggy Dundee said...

Lame is a good summary for this one. That the movie is poorly acted and cheaper than dirt is bad enough (I was shocked that this, evidently, wasn't a made-for-TV flick), the whitewash of Colson infuriating. The guy who said he'd run over his own grandmother to get Nixon reelected wasn't some naïve bureaucrat.