Quite simply, and across the board, The Wager is not a good film. But as a "Christian" film, with its low budget and artistic limitations, it at least gives a good try, even if it does ultimately fail to rise above the all-too-familiar ghetto of "faith-based" cinema.
Let's start with one of the better things about The Wager—its distribution plan. Outreach Cinema is distributing the film directly to churches, beginning December 31. Outreach provides a "turnkey feature film experience" for churches, allowing a congregation to purchase a $299 package that includes a licensed copy of the DVD, a variety of promotional materials, and a three-month license to screen the film an unlimited number of times. The package also includes 15 extra DVD copies of the film which can be sold at the church's discretion for profit; if the church sells all 15 at $20 each, they can recoup the $299 cost. For a company that focuses on faith-based movies that are "safe" for a family audience, such a do-it-yourself strategy that taps the target market in churches makes pretty good sense.
It's a shame, then, that the latest film to use this approach is such a disappointment. It doesn't help that the main conceit of the film is that country music superstar Randy Travis plays an actor (named Michael Steele) who is up for Best Actor at the upcoming Academy Awards. Seriously? It is taken for granted from the outset that Steele is on par with a Clint Eastwood or Tom Hanks, but the film never comes close to convincing us that he is, or ever was, a good actor. It's a classic example of trying to make something so by telling us, even while the film at large is showing us something completely contrary—i.e., that Steele, or Travis-as-Steele, can't ...1
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