Perhaps I oversold myself on Left Behind. Nicolas Cage is my favorite actor and I thought Cage doing The Rapture was the best idea since Darren Aronofsky doing Robocop. Of course, my version was the Jerry Bruckheimer Nicolas Cage running around an apocalyptic wasteland saving the world from the Antichrist. That’s not what Left Behind is.
Ray Steele (Cage) is piloting an aircraft when The Rapture hits. His daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) had come home from school to surprise him on his birthday, but he went off to work instead. Home life is strained since Irene Steele (Lea Thompson) found Jesus. She’s been a bit aggressive about it causing a rift with her daughter and some strain with her husband too. Investigative reporter Cameron Williams (Chad Michael Murray) is also on Ray’s flight as a passenger.
Left Behind knows its audience. It is pretty blatant about the non believers. You know who is going to be left behind because they don’t believe in God, they sin (gamblers, investment bankers, drug addicts) or they have a different religion (there’s a Muslim on the plane too). It’s still tame though. The wannabe adulterers haven’t actually consummated the sin yet.
The film is sensitive to both the believers and nonbelievers. Believers are backed up against people who criticize them. Of course, they are proven right in this scenario. But like a good Christian, the film has compassion for the non believers, although perhaps a naivety about the complexity that goes into nonbelief. Seculars seem forgiven for asking practical questions. Believers are used to dealing with these questions. If they really believe, they don’t get defensive about questions.
That’s why I was shocked that there are so many fetish shots of women’s legs and cleavage. Flight attendant Hattie Durham (Nicky Whelan) is introduced with a shot of her legs exiting her car. That’s a standard Hollywood way to introduce a lady but I didn’t think Christian movies did that. It may have been an accident that at least two shots end up looking down Thomson’s blouse. She is crawling around a lot of carnage, but I felt tempted.
This isn’t the Nicolas Cage of Face/Off, Con Air or even National Treasure. He’s being sensitive, and also saddled with a lot of airplane exposition to explain what he needs to fix. There’s a moment when he finally realizes what caused passengers to disappear, he could go into a rage but his reaction shows he committed to the audience Left Behind is for. That’s admirable too. Whether he is Christian or not, I don’t know, but if Christians asked him to represent their belief in a movie, he gave it the same respect he would Ghost Rider or Kick-Ass. Can’t say the same for the passengers on the flight who react like extras from Airplane!. Cameron helps deal with them.
Thomson has the Nicolas Cage part, running through the Raptured streets with looting and unmanned vehicles careening out of control. Unfortunately, the film is so low budget it looks like a cheap TV movie. Stunts are limited to one lone vehicle they could afford to wreck per scene, and probably the first take of any stunt. I’m surprised director Vic Armstrong couldn’t make it look bigger. I guess he never had to work second unit on a low budget movie before.
Every scene is so overlit that it look like a mall food court, which is at least appropriate for the scene taking place in a mall food court (Chick-fil-A prominently featured in the background). There are some continuity issues too, like a mob of passengers storming the cockpit just disappear. Maybe they were Raptured back to their seats. And the CGI at the end… Oh, but the worst effect is Nicolas Cage Photoshopped into a family photo with Thompson and Thomson. Aside from the poor production values, Left Behind seems sincere.
It is constructed like a Hollywood disaster movie and it’s never boring. The plane keeps facing problems Ray has to solve, and Chloe keeps running into minor skirmishes as she looks for her Raptured sibling and mother. The film knows it should keep the pace up. It just can’t pull off any of the scale of The Rapture.
One thing I liked is that when The Rapture happens, everyone’s clothes remain. That’s what I wanted to see on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer for seven years, but whenever she staked a vampire their clothes disappeared too. Well, Joss Whedon may have been ahead of me on that one because looking at a pile of empty clothes is pretty ridiculous.