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Instead, I want them to be honest and truthful and, above all, not manipulative: a filmmaker who embodies dissatisfaction with a world that he believes is broken beyond repair is quite different than one who says the world is broken and so we ought to just all do whatever we want. (I addressed this in my review of The Counselor.) A romantic comedy that suggests that we need more than just romance to live the good life (like About Time, for instance) is going to get higher marks than one (or, really, the legion of them) that suggest to viewers that all your problems will be solved if you can just fall in love.

Some of our reviewers, I think, are especially good at picking up on when a movie is lying to us. A good example of a review we ran that addressed the worldview question was Jack Cuidon's review of Free Birds, a film marketed at children and their families, which, as he pointed out, also advocates a troubling view of the world informed by pragmatism. Jack also gave half a star (half a star!) to 2 Guns because it is, as he put it, "a huge, harmful, insidious, attractive lie."

Another great example is Ken Morefield's piece on Before Midnight, which took a look at the trilogy of which it's a part and praised the film for its nuanced and truthful portrayal of married life. Ken also wrote insightfully about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit—and what it tells us about how we've hollowed out our expectations about our "action hero" movies.

Christian film criticism is marked by a view of the world and a definition of the "good life" shaped by the fullest understanding of the gospel: creation, fall, and redemption. Not every movie has to embody all of these things (though a few seem to pull it off), but a Christian film critic sees a film through a lens shaped by this full-bodied understanding.

So where does The Wolf of Wall Street land on this spectrum? As I mentioned in my content advisory, and in the review itself, Wolf (fairly clearly) condemns the action of its main character. It does it brilliantly—Belfort indicts himself through his narration, something the real Belfort does in his memoir, presumably unwittingly—and there's an FBI agent in the film whose very presence seems to be a biting critique.

At the same time, Scorsese doesn't take the viewer's hand and say, look there: this guy's bad. He's expecting the audience to come to that conclusion themselves—and those who don't want to, won't. That's something I addressed in the final paragraphs of my content advisory. But this is a film with a clear (and perhaps surprising) moral sense of the universe: Belfort's a despicable character who takes advantage of those who are less privileged than he is, even as he continues to live the high life—both in the movie and in real life.

Which leads to the second calculus, which is pretty self-explanatory: is the acting good? Is the writing believable for its genre? Does the cinematography look good (or at least not distracting)? How's the music? The lighting? Movies are a medium with a lot of moving parts, and part of what we look at is whether the film is well-made—taking into account, of course, factors such as the budget, the resources available to the filmmakers, and the experience of the players involved. This means we do research as we write, and we also remind ourselves of the previous work the filmmakers have done (sometimes watching or reading about old films to refresh our memories).

Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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