...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Money, power, fame—the marks of success and the modern American dream. Most people want such success, and many will go to great lengths to get it. In the process, the ethical line that is so clear early on in life can get moved or covered up by the debris of moral compromises. Suddenly, actions that once would have seemed appalling don’t cause a twinge of conscience in the person who no longer believes he is doing wrong.
So goes the now famous story of Charles “Chuck” Colson. In the film adaptation of his biography, Born Again, the compelling story of a tragic fall worthy of Shakespeare comes to life with strong acting and a well-written screenplay that support the power of this unforgettable true account of sin and redemption.
Already a successful Washington, D.C. lawyer, Chuck Colson’s career is on the fast track as he works his way to the status of President Nixon’s right-hand man at the White House. As Nixon’s troubleshooter, Chuck earns another rare endowment, that of Nixon’s “Hatchet Man.”
The title seems well-deserved, as Chuck clearly has no qualms about using tough methods to silence Nixon’s opponents and help the President look better. But Chuck was raised to be a moral person, and he would never intentionally do something that was clearly wrong. At least, that’s what Chuck would say if someone asked him, and he’d believe it himself.
Then rumors of governmental cover-ups start to emerge. At first, they’re of little concern. Such stories are popping up all the time to throw dirt on opposing political parties. Then Chuck discovers that Nixon is nervous, and that there may be truth to the allegations of corruption.
Suddenly, Chuck’s perfect life—that of political powerhouse, husband, and father of three—starts to crumble under the flood of the Watergate scandal. Picked as the scapegoat, Nixon and his administration offer up Chuck to the press and the justice system, pressuring him to take the fall for greater crimes than those he is actually guilty of. Dangled before the rabidly furious public, the man whose name alone was enough to spark fear in the hearts of adversaries is now afraid himself.
Though a few friends and Chuck’s family remain supportive, the pressure builds as the consequences of his indictment multiply. Desperately seeking help, Chuck encounters an old friend whom he notices has changed drastically. Once an unhappy politician himself, this friend explains that the change in his life has come from being saved by Jesus Christ.
Through the testimony of this friend, Chuck starts to see for the first time his own depravity and helplessness, as well as the truth of the Gospel. But even after Chuck is saved, the road before him is not easy. Chuck’s story is only just beginning, as he has to struggle to live out his faith by doing what is right, even if that means following Christ from behind prison bars.
For many Christians, Chuck Colson’s story is a familiar one. As one of the most prominent evangelical figures of our day, his recognition is extensive and his impact immeasurable. Yet even those who have heard the story of his conversion before shouldn’t miss Born Again.
Through the powerful media of film, Colson’s remarkable experience is brought to life in a way that is factual, but also conveys the emotion and drama of the events better than can be done in book or other form. This heightened impact is due in part to the strong adaptation of Colson’s story for the screen with a script that is smartly structured and highly realistic. From the posh offices of the White House to the grimy prison cells, the production’s attention to detail creates the authentic environment needed for this true story.
A strong cast closes the deal, sealing the quality of the production with skillful performances. Dean Jones, starring as Chuck, digs into this role perhaps like none other in his long career, displaying dramatic chops he kept hidden in other movies. The film rides on Jones’s shoulders, and he proves in every scene that he can carry the load. He is benefited in some of those scenes by the moving performance of Anne Francis as Chuck’s wife.
Surrounding Jones are an unusual number of small roles that could still ruin the picture if filled with amateur actors. A couple of the young actors playing Colson’s children are a bit raw at times, but the other strong players show that the filmmakers were not content to throw away the small roles.
The cinematography in Born Again is nothing notable, and no one will be impressed by the image quality. These faults, however, are only what would be found in many films from the 70’s. In a time when the production quality of Christian films was more on par with Hollywood pictures, Born Again is nothing inferior for its day.
Perhaps in the effort toward realism, the filmmakers did unfortunately include some offensive language. Thanks to modern technology, however, the foul words have been edited out of the recent 30th anniversary edition of the video. Viewers will still be able to tell that some characters swear, and among them is one Christian character. Add that to the mature themes in the film, and this is a movie that is most appropriate for teens and adults.
But there is much Born Again has to offer that its contemporary competitors cannot. As an account of a remarkable Christian’s amazing story of redemption, this film has the power to change lives. In addition to Colson’s transformation, the movie delves into other relevant issues, such as the importance of fathers and how their choices affect their children, for better or worse. The film also explores conflict in marriage, and topics like friendship, forgiveness, and, of course, integrity.
The driving force of this tale, however, is the story of a merciful God who transformed an evil man into His ambassador of hope, love, and the Gospel— a man who was “born again” to bring thousands to Christ.