Jesus Revolution, rated PG-13
On June 21, 1971, TIME magazine published a cover story titled “The Jesus Revolution,” chronicling the rise of Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel church in the early years of that decade. This excellent film shows the reporter of the TIME article, Josiah, played by DeVon Franklin, covering the beginning of a national spiritual awakening that started within a community of teenage hippies in Southern California and then spread across the country.
The film was directed by Jon Erwin (American Underdog, I Still Believe, I Can Only Imagine), and written by Erwin and Jon Gunn (American Underdog, I Still Believe), and is based on the book Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today by Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn (Becoming Elizabeth Elliot).
The film follows two main storylines. The first features Pastor Chuck Smith, played by five-time Emmy winner Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), who plays the preacher of a church that has a dwindling congregation in 1968 Costa Mesa, California. His daughter Jannette, played by Ally lonnides, introduces him to Lonnie, played by Jonathan Roumie (Jesus in The Chosen), a hippie who was converted to Christianity in San Francisco. Initially, Smith and other members of the congregation have reservations about Lonnie. Lonnie then brings some of his hippie friends with him and they start filling up the church, to the point that they need to find another place to hold worship services. Soon Lonnie is preaching and healing, drawing great crowds, with the music led by Love Song, an early contemporary Christian band. Mass baptisms take place in Pirates Cove Beach.
The second storyline features Greg Laurie, played by Joel Courtney (The Kissing Booth, Super 8), who was raised without a father and an alcoholic mother Charlene, played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Nashville, Father of the Bride). He is an artist and likes to film with his camera. He sees fellow high school student Cathe, played by Anna Grace Barlow, and they slowly begin to hang out, going to a concert that features Timothy Leary and Janis Joplin. But after her sister almost overdoses, Cathe has had enough with drugs, and goes to Chuck’s church. Eventually, she convinces Greg Laurie to visit the church.
The film includes original score music composed by Brent McCorkle, as well as music from the time period (Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, etc.). Also inspired by, but not included in the film is a new recording of “They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love” by Michael W. Smith.
The cinematography work by Akis Konstantakopoulos, especially of the Pirates Cove Beach in southern California is well done.
Themes in the film include judgmentalism, revival, forgiveness and new life. Content concerns are drug and alcohol use, and a violent accident.
The film includes strong acting performances by Kelsey Grammer as Pastor Chuck Smith and Jonathan Roumie as Lonnie. A slight complaint is that the film seemed overly long at two hours.
I’ve seen a number of faith-based films over the years, many of which were not very good. Jesus Revolution is an exception, and is among the best I’ve seen. The film is well made and acted and remains true to the events that took place at the beginning of the spiritual awakening in the early 1970’s.