Sundance 2011 Review: SALVATION BOULEVARD
Editor's note: This review was originally published as a Sundance Film Festival review on January 28, 2011.
The world of over-the-top evangelism is brought to a new frenetic high as we watch egotistical Pastor Dan Day (Pierce Bronson) use his church as a potential business opportunity rather than a place of worship. Followers such as Gwen (Jennifer Connelly) and Carl (Greg Kinnear) are clearly drawn in by Pastor Dan’s undeniable charisma, while Gwen’s father Billy (Howard Hesseman) is more interested in getting on the ground level of the church’s expanding business model.
This mix of over-exaggerated spiritualism alongside capitalism creates a church that is selling more than saving. Pastor Dan has no problem taking on disbelievers and willingly debates local professor Dr. Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris) with unfortunately tragic results. A witness to this event, recently “saved” ex-Deadhead Carl’s faith is rocked and he reacts with rational thinking to the situation whereas Pastor Dan turns to his version of God to validate his actions.
Both racked with guilt, Carl attempts to right their wrong-doing with an anonymous call to the police, while Pastor Dan hides out at home, terrified when his cell phone lights up red and starts ringing from an unknown number. This call is juxtaposed against an image of the Devil from a movie Pastor Dan had paused on and is the kind of comical imagery that comes a bit too close to hitting us over the head with the connection back to religion and Pastor Dan’s exaggerated belief system.
Not wanting his secret to get out, Pastor Dan enlists his henchman/cameraman Jerry (Jim Gaffigan) to take out Carl to ensure his silence. Between the over-the-top theatrics of his sermons (he has a camera man, for God’s sake) and his mob-like solutions to problems, SALVATION BOULEVARD starts to spin a bit off course as the antics ensue. As Jerry attempts to carry out this hit on Carl, I found myself thinking the film was turning into the religious PINEAPPLE EXPRESS as we bounce from one outrageous situation to the next.
Carl works as the audience’s link into the insanity as his character seems to be the only sane one in the bunch. Pastor Dan’s congregation act more like a gang than followers of God and Pastor Dan uses his influence over them to cover up his sins rather than help them purge their own. As the film reaches its climax, three of our main characters have their final confrontations and in case you were not sure who was representing what element in this story of persecution, Pastor Dan is confronted by a man in red and then saved by a man in white.
I was quickly sucked into the story during the debating scenes between Pastor Dan and Dr. Paul Blaylock at the start of the film, but sadly those were cut short causing the story to go in a new, haphazard direction. I certainly laughed throughout, but overall SALVATION BOULEVARD left me lukewarm. I suppose there was some salvation to be found by the end and, despite the heavy-handed religious undertones, each character seemed to get there without the help of their faith, but that may have been the point after all.