out of ****
I approached Outcasts,
a short film directed by Stephen F. Boatright, with it already
on my good side. I have a sincere admiration for both short
films and Christ’s parables,
and Boatright is working with both canvases here. To my delight,
the film works in its simplicity—it is intelligently made,
thoughtfully written, and it successfully updates Christ’s
brief parable of the Good Samaritan. I think the carpenter from
Nazareth would have been proud at how well Boatright translates
what is arguably his most famous parable.
I’ve always admired any director’s ability to successfully
make a short film, because of the thought that is required to
go into them. To compact a story into a few moments in a way
that it is visually appealing and still contains an interesting
premise is quite a feat. Because you are dealing with only a
few minutes of film, you are essentially creating a movie stripped
down of all unnecessary devices. It is very easy to make short
films badly—especially one only five minutes in length,
like Outcasts. Many directors will attempt a visually
appealing film but leave out an interesting storyline—see
my mixed review for Batman: Dead End. But short films
cannot cheat; they must contain a beginning, middle, and an end,
just like full length features.
Christ himself probably
knew a thing or two about the difficulty of telling a good
short story fast. His parables are witty and insightful, offering
good advice in easily accessible stories. Indeed, they much
more interesting than all of those boring Sunday school classes
would lead you to believe. His parables always worked on two
different levels—as spiritual insight on
the “ Kingdom of God,” and as political statements
against the religious leaders of the day, who he felt had allowed
greed and rituals to mix into their religion that negatively
affected the community.
Yet Christ’s parables are not exclusively meant for the
religious. They have insight concerning mental hygiene and proper
living that would make Aesop give pause. “Do unto others
as you would want them to do unto you.” A very simple concept—almost
too simple. But a careful examination reveals its profoundness,
and the idea contains no holes that I can see. Simply put, it’s
very, very good advice.
that Christ’s teachings are not
outdated and still pack a powerful punch today. I have always
enjoyed fresh variations of Christ’s parables; I named The
Target, an update of the Prodigal Son story set in modern
day South Africa that featured Dennis Hopper as a Mafioso who
returns to his childhood village, one of the best films of 2003.
Boatright’s film isn’t nearly as emotionally complex
or as involving as that film, but then, it isn’t trying
to be. It is simply a re-examination of Christ’s Good Samaritan
story, intelligently reinvented to fit into today’s society.
No more, no less.
I like Boatright’s approach because, like Christ himself,
he is a Christian storyteller who is in touch enough to reveal
the hypocrisy of the Christian church. We all know the story
of the Good Samaritan, of course—a man is beaten and robbed,
and after several religious leaders pass him by and ignore him,
a Samaritan—someone despised in Israel in the early first
century—finds him and nurses him back to health. Christ
was speaking about both the need for universal love and respect
among fellow man and the hypocrisy of the church, and Boatright
successfully updates these ideas so that they are both humorous
and startlingly accurate.
For example, after the poor
chap has been beaten up and lays unconscious, a preachers walks
by, gasps, stuffs a dollar bill into the bleeding man’s hand, and says, “God bless
you.” I’m not sure which observation is more interesting
here—the fact that the preacher only thinks of money, or
that he considers pulling out more from his large wad of cash
to help this poor kid…and doesn’t.
In addition, the “Good Samaritan’s” identity
turns out to be a very satisfying twist, challenging the very
nature of today’s church yet matching the application in
Christ’s story exactly. Who, in today’s Evangelical
church, has the most despised and controversial lifestyle, as
the Samaritan did in Christ’s day? I hope this clue doesn’t
reveal too much, but even if it does, Boatright’s point
is still poignant and insightful. It also makes the film’s
title, Outcasts, quite ironic: The victim and his rescuer
have more in common than they probably could have guessed.
also demonstrates a good eye for visuals. He shoots almost documentary
style, in noir-like black and white, creating a gritty, urban
feeling that works well for a modern-day update. Christ taught
to the poor people in the streets, and poor streets is exactly
what we get here. There is also a scene of very disturbing violence
that seems chillingly lifted from headline news. It is perhaps
even more disturbing because Boatright chooses to focus on the
faces of the malicious attackers rather than the event itself.
It is an effective directorial choice.
I do have one reservation: The keyboard soundtrack gets a little
overbearing and sappy at times, working against the realistic
setting. It might have been the sound system that I heard it
on, but it was a bit domineering. Still, it is small potatoes
when compared to what works with this film. By the time Outcasts kicks
into high gear and reveals its twists, you’re grinning
(or grimacing) too heavily to notice the distracting music.
Outcasts, Boatright reveals himself to be a talented
artist with a message. He has made a short, to-the-point film
that will certainly challenge Christians to think outside of the
comfort zones, as well as let the rest of the world know that
not all Christians are as over-zealous as some of the characters
featured in this film. The film is so effective in its simplicity,
I am left with no doubt that if Christ had come today, he would
have directed short films.
Dale Hall: Sean
Steve Duggins: Deacon
Orner: Thug 1
Ben Zimmer: Thug 2
A Beamish Boy Production.
Written and directed by Stephen F. Boatright. No M.P.A.A. rating,
but contains a pretty disturbing scene of violence—recommended
for mature children. Running time: Five minutes. Original United
States theatrical release date: October 24, 2003 (Damah Film
here to view Outcasts.