...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Some say we live in a shrinking world. International events are so broadly known that the world—its people and happenings—seems closer, smaller. Yet, particularly in America, it is easy to forget about the rest of the world as we go about our daily lives, or at the most focus on our own national news, which is eventful enough.
This is where movies, often rightly criticized for being a bad influence on culture, can help. A well-made film can confront us with the truth we do not know or want to forget. Not Today does just that.
Caden Welles is in many ways a typical American. He’s rich, spoiled, and immature for his twenty years. When his parents divorced, Caden said goodbye to God, choosing instead to get involved with friends he willingly follows into a sordid lifestyle of drinking and parties. Caden tries to hold on to his churchgoing girlfriend by lying to her about his actions, just as he manipulates his mother into granting him privileges and uses his father’s fortune for whatever he wants.
One evening on a whim, Caden and his friends decide he wants a trip to India. Money is no object with his dad footing the bill, and his mom only needs a little pleading and a few smiles to grant her blessing. What Caden doesn’t realize is that his mother only agrees because she’s hoping the trip will be an answer to her prayer that God will rattle Caden’s world.
The answer to that prayer comes in a way no one expected. Caden dives into a night of partying when he arrives in India, but the evening is ruined by the appearance of an Indian man and his young daughter. The two natives are dirty, but still have the effrontery to ask Caden for help. The father claims his daughter is starving. Savvy American that he is, Caden recognizes con artists when he sees them. Caden sends the man and girl away with many harsh words and no money.
For some reason, the man his and daughter aren’t so easy to banish from Caden’s mind. He’s haunted by them every waking and sleeping moment. Wanting to be able to sleep again, Caden sets out to find the man and his daughter in order to give them cash and get them out of his head.
Caden finds the father, but the little girl is nowhere to be seen. At first, Caden fears she might be dead. The truth the father tells him may be worse—she has been sold. Driven by guilt, Caden joins with the father in a desperate attempt to locate and rescue the girl.
Caden’s guilt soon turns into horror over what he sees and a growing desperation to save all the little girls he encounters who are trapped in a sordid prison of slavery and prostitution. Is this horrific evil more evidence that the God Caden doubts doesn’t care, or is that God the only One who can help Caden save the girl?
With the subject of human trafficking as this story’s focus, Not Today immediately dodges the criticism that Christian films are unrealistic or irrelevant. Prejudice against races like the Dajit people of India and the enslavement of women and children is all too real. Because of the brutal and perverse nature of these crimes, Not Today understandably comes on a bit heavy-handed in a few moments, as the filmmakers are unable to resist some overemphasis of their message.
At the same time, the production is strengthened by a strong, layered story that does not actually rely on the human trafficking premise to succeed. This smart move is carried out by a well-written screenplay that ensures viewers will be able to relate and attach to the nuanced characters. Getting the audience to care is key in a film that tackles a heavy issue, and Not Today secures the viewers’ investment by the time it is needed.
The acting is equally crucial in a picture like Not Today, where authenticity must be constant in order to make the premise believable and impactful. Here, Not Today rises above the weakness of some faith-based films by obtaining skilled actors who are up to the task of their demanding roles.
Cody Longo has a particularly daunting role as Caden, but the young actor rises to the occasion. Longo is a bit less confident when playing the callous, partying Caden, but comes into his own as Caden becomes a complex character grappling with unfathomable darkness.
The lost girl’s Dalit father is memorably played by Walid Amini, who shows impressive range and a tremendous gift for creating an unquestionable sense of reality in his portrayal. The authenticity of the actors’ performances is also evidence of a director who allows his actors the freedom to be comfortable and respond to each other in the scene.
The cinematography is of a similarly raw style that comes to life in the India sequences, blending with lighting, settings, and location-shooting to create a palpable reality for the film.
The production choices are not without a few mistakes, however. The worst of these is the filmmakers’ experiment with the subtitles translating Indian lines into English. These subtitles are distributed in animated fashion all over the screen, rather than kept unmoving in their usual place at the bottom. In a few scenes, animated subtitles are also used with English dialogue to emphasize the lines deemed important.
The result is competition between the words and the actors, compromising the visuals of the scene the viewers should be free to absorb. When used for emphasis, the subtitles are heavy-handed and do the opposite of what they intended to do, distracting from the already powerful scene and making viewers care less because of the destroyed illusion of reality. Thankfully, the uses of this technique are not constant and decrease in the later portion of the film.
Not Today could probably get away with several filmmaking mistakes and not have the errors dim the impact of the story. Film critics have said that Not Today “shows the power of getting involved” in the lives of others. This movie, however, does much more than that. It shows the presence of God in the darkest of circumstances, the faithfulness of His mercies, and the unfathomable power of prayer. In Caden’s journey, viewers see a moving example of God’s patience and persistence in bringing His prodigal child back home, forming Caden through his trials into a more complete person equipped to change the world.
Not Today is not light entertainment. The film’s mature content, while tactfully handled in a non-graphic manner, is appropriate only for mature teens and adults. This movie is also not one to watch if you want to live in a bubble, unconcerned about the outside world and its problems. This movie will move you, change you, and rock your world. So don’t say, “not today.” Watch this film today and brace for change.
“Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:44-46 (ESV)