Directed by Rob Hardy. Starring Boris Kodjoe, Idris Elba, Nona Gaye, Clifton Powell, Aloma Wright, Donnie McClurkin, Omar Gooding, Tamyra Gray. (2005, PG, 103 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Oct. 14, 2005
Tamyra, Tamyra, Tamyra. I didn’t recognize you at first! But here you are as the sassy single-mom love interest for R&B singer David Taylor (Kodjoe), who returns home to Atlanta when his father (Powell), a church pastor, is stricken with cancer. Recently a secular studmuffin with a hit single ("Let Me Undress You") and a fawning manager (Gooding, brother of Cuba), David must reconsider his spiritual roots and contend with childhood friend Frank (Elba), his father’s likely successor, who wants to transform the neighborhood congregation into a flashy Christian ecclesiastical empire. Can David save the church, or will he go back on tour to Philly? Like many faith-based movies, this is a largely independent affair – gospel singer and "radical for Christ" Fred Hammond produces (and also stars as himself). And like many faith-based movies, the conflicts onscreen are mostly internal. But unlike many faith-based movies, The Gospel successfully captures the ecstatic experience of gospel performance; instead of shaming and blaming, the film makes a pretty salient case for going to church. Its characters aren’t abstinent squares – they’re ordinary-seeming people with ordinary problems – and the movie doesn’t try to make religion exciting and cinematic by having them climb mountains or battle Satan. (Yes, I’ve seen those movies.) Instead you get a sense of what attracts people to a community of spiritual believers in the first place. The phenomenal opening montage combines still and live footage with a performance of "My God Is an Awesome God" that strips the word "awesome" of its dudespeak connotations: These people really feel what they’re singing about. The segment positions the film squarely within the context of African-American spirituality and starts it off with a bang. Yet The Gospel doesn’t achieve much beyond its faith-based intentions. It’s structured a bit like an MGM musical ("Hey, everyone! Let’s put on a show!") but has a lot less energy. Sassy as she is, when Gray’s character tells Kodjoe she’s just a distraction, she’s right. Writer-director Hardy (a self-made filmmaker who essayed moral themes in the 2000 softcore movie Trois and its sequels) writes economical dialogue, but the movie wanders around from scene to scene without much momentum; it doesn’t have an arc, and it needs one. The Gospel doesn’t have the mass-audience appeal it ought to. As it is, the gospel performances recommend the movie most highly; otherwise it’s not due for much praise.