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Paramount Studios presents
Leap of Faith (1992)

Will: I told you, I had a job to do.
Jane: Doing your job is one thing; trying to destroy a human being is another.
Will: Nuclear winter couldn't destroy that man.

- Liam Neeson, Debra Winger

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: January 22, 2004

Stars: Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson, Lukas Haas
Other Stars: Meat Loaf, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Richard Pearce

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language
Run Time: 01h:47m:55s
Release Date: September 09, 2003
UPC: 097363279242
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ C+A-B+ D-

DVD Review

In this presidential election year, it's hard not to equate the blustery rallies of hopeful candidates with the smoke and mirrors of good old-fashioned revival meetings. Both peddle optimism, change, even miracles, while whipping up crowds into a passionate frenzy of adulation and belief. They also welcome (and slyly encourage) monetary donations; yet somehow people seem more willing to give their almighty dollar to the almighty Lord than support the dirty business of politics.

Leap of Faith shows us what a lucrative business religion can be, and how easily a group of professional con artists can swindle the last dime from a lost, hopeless throng. Steve Martin stars as Jonas Nightingale, a fast-talking, self-made preacher who runs a streamlined evangelist outfit called Miracles and Wonders, which specializes in promising just about anything to its middle-class, Middlewestern, middle-aged clientele—in return for buckets of hard-earned cash. With high-tech equipment, calculated sincerity, and nerves of steel, these shysters fool their prey into believing they're mind-readers as well as miracle workers, able to reach inside any soul and soothe the ache that plagues it. Yet when their bus breaks down in the tiny town of Rustwater, Kansas—the "Corn Relish Capitol of America"—the troupe itches to make the pit stop profitable. They modify their plan and stage a revival for the draught-plagued, dirt-poor community that's desperate to latch on to a dream.

Jane (Debra Winger), Jonas' partner in crime, secures the necessary permits from Will Braverman (Liam Neeson), the suspicious town sheriff who questions the revival's legitimacy. Will takes an interest in Jane, and hopes to crack her cynical shell by introducing her to the simple pleasures of an honest life. Meanwhile, Jonas seeks to sway (and seduce) Marva (Lolita Davidovich), a local waitress who also doubts his abilities, thanks to a devastating experience her crippled brother, Boyd (Lukas Haas), endured at the hands of a faith healer.

While Jonas' dazzling orations inspire Rustwater residents to empty their pockets, he rationalizes his deeds (and bolsters a wavering Jane) by convincing himself he's hawking a precious commodity called hope, and if people feel better after tossing some bills in the kitty, then everyone walks away happy. In many ways, he believes himself to be the religious equivalent of Dr. Feel-Good, dispensing inspiration instead of pills, and treating grateful patients for a nominal charge. And what, Jonas muses, is wrong with that?

Leap of Faith begins as an intriguing exposé of evangelism. We witness Jonas' crew plotting and executing their intricate deceptions, experience their slick showmanship, and see how quickly nonplussed onlookers morph into ardent disciples. But when screenwriter Janus Cercone tries to convince us Jonas really can produce miracles, Leap of Faith becomes as hokey and transparent as the revivals themselves.

Director Richard Pearce masterfully recreates the atmosphere of such events, from the wailing gospel choir and psychedelic lighting to the impassioned, manipulative preaching and over-the-top audience response. Yet the lack of any coherent story forces him to return again and again to the revival setting, which quickly becomes grating and tiresome. The repetitive scenes showcase Martin's impressive acting range, but his rambling, interminable monologues dull the impact of his words. Instead of sucking us in like the rapt parishioners, we find ourselves pulling away from the film, which makes embracing the climax almost impossible.

In a tailor-made role, Martin believably inhabits Jonas Nightingale, and his performance bursts with all the trademark energy and boldness we've come to expect from the comedian. The way he balances the character's heartless, manipulative qualities with moments of tenderness and introspection go far beyond the customary Martin portrayal. Winger excels as well, shading her work with a melt-your-heart softness that belies Jane's mover-and-shaker exterior. Only Neeson seems miscast; his poorly masked Irish brogue making it tough to accept him as a salt-of-the-earth Midwesterner.

In the end, Leap of Faith requires its own leap of faith for us to swallow the film's final act. While miracles may, in fact, happen every day, the ones depicted in this meandering production lack the necessary impact to transform us into believers, too.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Paramount has once again done right by a catalog title, fashioning a lush, elegant, and wholly satisfying anamorphic transfer. Although the Midwestern plains provide a rather drab backdrop, plenty of vivid, well-rendered color still finds its way into the film. Fleshtones are natural throughout, and contrast is also first-rate, despite the movie's soft look. Shadow detail, especially during the dark revival sequences, is also above average. Excellent source material keeps print defects to a bare minimum and no edge enhancement could be detected.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track nicely distinguishes subtle details, while providing full-bodied, enveloping sound. Most of the directionality is anchored in the front channels, but the surrounds kick in when required, effectively enhancing the gospel songs and audience enthusiasm during the revivals. Dialogue is always easy to comprehend, and a smooth smattering of bass adds presence and depth.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Paramount remains true to form here, too, offering not a single supplement (not even a trailer!) on this catalog release. C'mon, Paramount, throw us a bone!

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

Despite fine performances from Martin and Winger, a toe-tapping gospel soundtrack, and a stellar transfer, Leap of Faith never inspires the same feverish enthusiasm that consumes the extras on screen. A thin story and too much proselytizing prevent us from becoming fully involved in this otherwise handsomely produced film. Fans of the stars might enjoy a rental, but all others should save their pennies for a real revival instead.

 


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