Going into “Left Behind,” I was expecting a low-budget attempt at the disaster genre much like producer Paul Lalonde promised in interviews he conducted prior to the movie’s release. I have to say I was impressed with the new direction and take on Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ bestselling novel. I wouldn’t necessarily call it an improvement over the original version, but it looks and feels more like a genuine independent Hollywood production.
Millions of people suddenly vanish across the planet as the world is plunged into chaos and destruction. A small group of survivors are left behind to figure out what's happened to their friends and family. The happening leaves pilot Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage) and investigative journalist “Buck” Williams (Chad Michael Murray) 37,000 feet in the air trapped inside a plummeting airliner with panicking passengers to contend with. On the ground, his daughter (Cassi Thomson) wanders the streets of New York looking for her mother (Lea Thompson) and brother (Major Dodson) amidst the chaos and devastation.
“Left Behind” is very much set up like a 1970s disaster film. “Airport” immediately came to mind as the different characters and their motivations were set up. It was in the vein of a mini-version of a huge ensemble cast the likes that we’d see in “The Poseidon Adventure” or “Earthquake.” The situations play out a bit overly dramatic at times, but it doesn’t completely derail.
Nicolas Cage plays pilot Rayford Steele, who must keep his passengers calm while trying to find a way to land the damaged plane. He doesn’t play “Crazy” in “Left Behind” the way you would expect him to in a religious film about the Rapture. After a bit of a shaky start, his performance is very sincere, reserved, and genuinely emotional.
Last time around we had former child and teen actor Kirk Cameron step into the spotlight as investigative journalist "Buck Williams." This time we have Chad Michael Murray in the part and he seems a bit more adventurous and daring than Cameron did. Instead of wandering the world trying to figure out how millions of people have disappeared in the blink of an eye, his investigating is secluded to the damaged commercial airline Nicolas Cage is piloting.
Lea Thompson, on the other hand, has a small role as Cage’s wife who recently turned her heart to God. She comes off as over-phoning it in and seems artificial in her scenes. It’s really not what I was expecting from an actor I’m used to seeing give strong performances in hit television shows and movies like “Switched at Birth,” “Red Dawn,” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.”
The special and visual effects in “Left Behind” were actually well done. granted, there weren’t anywhere near as many scenes of destruction and chaos as I would’ve hoped for. All the disastrous occurrences were isolated to one plane, a single car, or a school bus crashing over the edge of a bridge. They also seemed to only happen to the main star of the movie as she wandered around the chaotic city. It all seemed a bit convenient from a story angle and affordable to pull off from a budget standpoint.
"Left Behind" is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, violence/peril and brief drug content. A extra-marital affair is insinuated but never really shown. One of the passengers of the airplane is a drug addict and they show her getting ready to snort some cocaine. The only violence is some car and plane crashes and people rioting and looting in the streets.
There are only three opinions you can have walking out of the movie. One is to take it as scripture and believing the things you see onscreen. The second opinion is that it’s a piece of fictional entertainment not to be taken seriously any more than other disaster films like “Airport,” “The Towering Inferno,” or “Meteor.” The last choice is to totally write off the entire concept and chuckle at how ridiculous the whole thing seems.
Is the Rapture and Tribulation Biblical? Are millions of believers going to disappear one day and leave non-Christians to fend for themselves against the Antichrist and his minions? I tend to believe in the concept as a Christian who was raised in the Southern Baptist Church. However, I can’t sit here and prove to you that’s how the end will come. The only thing I can say is that I respect anything that makes human beings dig deep into their hearts and attempt to figure out who they believe in and what they’re going to stand for in their lives. “Left Behind” accomplishes this feat and gets viewers to take a little personal time and reflect on those notions.
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