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Mark Ruffalo as Father Joe in 'Sympathy For Delicious'

Mark Ruffalo as Father Joe in 'Sympathy For Delicious'

Mark Ruffalo as Father Joe
Sympathy for Delicious (2010)
Mark Moring

Mark Ruffalo was brilliant playing a morally conflicted priest on Skid Row in Sympathy for Delicious. His character is kind, compassionate, Christ-like toward the homeless. When a paralyzed man on Skid Row suddenly develops a supernatural ability to heal others (but not himself), Father Joseph (Ruffalo) sees an opportunity to raise much-needed money to grow his ministry. His motives seem to be pure, but when his paralyzed friend takes his "healing show" on the road and becomes something of a rock star miracle man, and as the money starts to pour in, Father Joseph's intentions become more muddied and muddled. It's a fascinating character study. I interviewed Ruffalo when the film released, and really appreciated his insights into this nuanced, conflicted character.

Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop in 'Les Miserables'

Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop in 'Les Miserables'

Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop
Les Miserables (2012)
Gina Dalfonzo (@ginadalfonzo)

Not only did he play the role of the sacrificial bishop beautifully, but it was such a nice touch to put the original stage Valjean in the role of the man who prompted Valjean's redemption. The film brought him back at the end to greet Valjean as he entered heaven—something that didn't happen in the stage show—which brought the whole story full circle.

Michael C. Hall with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) as Brother Sam in 'Dexter'

Michael C. Hall with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) as Brother Sam in 'Dexter'

Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) as Brother Sam
Dexter (2006-2013)
Alissa Wilkinson (@alissamarie)

The series about the serial killer Dexter has its high and low points when it comes to religion—though the whole series works well as a look at whether "badness" is in us from the start or whether it's a result of our circumstances, and at whether anyone is truly "innocent." That said, Yasiin Bey (who is, confusingly, credited by both that name and Mos Def in the series) in season six as Brother Sam, the ex-con turned minister to bad guys, is absolutely brilliant. Dexter at first mistrusts him because of his criminal past, but comes to believe, rightly, that he's the real thing. And Sam's life is a testimony to the possibility of hard-won redemption.

Colin Hanks as Father John Gill in 'Mad Men'

Colin Hanks as Father John Gill in 'Mad Men'

Colin Hanks as Father John Gill
Mad Men (2007-present)
Alissa Wilkinson (@alissamarie)

He pops up so early in the series that most people seem to have forgotten he was there at all, but the young, dynamic priest at Peggy's family's parish cares about his parishioners' sins and their lives outside the church building. I'll be honest: for his entire story arc, I was sure he was going to turn out to be one of the bad guys; there's rarely, if ever, an unmitigatedly righteous person in Mad Men. But it seems like he might have been one of the few.

Tom Wilkinson as Father Moore in 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'

Tom Wilkinson as Father Moore in 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'

Tom Wilkinson as Father Moore
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
S.L. Whitesell (@SLWhitesell)

Despite what the film's title might suggest, the star The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not a demon-possessed girl. No, the central character is Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), the consummate suffering servant. In the opening scenes, he is in the breach when the medical examiner tells Emily's family, "I cannot state conclusively that the cause of death was natural. Your daughter, she . . . " As the doctor trails off, Father Moore sees something unnatural in the family's yard. Cut to outside the courthouse, where reporters are asking Father Moore if he will plead guilty for the negligent homicide of Emily Rose. He won't. His lawyer tells him, "The district attorney doesn't like it when religion puts itself above the law."

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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