Reviewed by: Douglas M. Downs
Starring: Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson, Chelsea Noble, Clarence Gilyard, Gordon Currie, Janaya Stephens | Directed by: Bill Corcoran | Written by: Paul Lalonde, John Patus | Produced and Distributed by: Cloud Ten Pictures
Remember the 60’s film “A Thief in the Night”? It’s still a vivid memory for me. The images and the message left an indelible impression on my memory. There is no doubt that a clear presentation of the end times in light of today’s events can be a dynamic way to prompt people to examine their heart. The “Left Behind” series accomplishes this in a creative and evangelical way. These compelling stories authored by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have inspired another generation to find faith in Jesus Christ. Every book in the series has topped the New York Times Best Sellers list. Four of the novels have debuted at #1!
Desecration was the best selling novel for the year 2001. This is an amazing feat for books that are unashamedly Christian. I know that some enjoy debating the theological premises behind their interpretation of the rapture and the tribulation period, but I think that all Christians can agree on the fact that one day Jesus Christ is going to return. The secondary challenge with a popular book is how to bring it to the big screen. LaHaye and Jenkins’ books are very engaging and imagination is a powerful force to recon with. (Just ask the director and producers of the “Lord of the Rings” series.) The reactions from the first “Left Behind” film were mixed. The movie was released on video and then Christians were encouraged to invite their friends to the theatrical release. I personally thought that the first movie was OK, but many of its weakness were because of time constraints. On a positive note, the first video was #1 the first week of release and beat “Toy Story II” and “The Green Mile”.
Left Behind II: Tribulation Force is quite good! It is a first-rate translation of the book and it definitely stands on its own. “Tribulation Force” actually even makes the original better, because of more attention given to character development. All of the principal actors of the first “Left Behind” have returned for the second. This is always an important ingredient for any series or sequel. I initially thought that Kirk Cameron was miscast in the original—he just didn’t personify at all how I imagined Buck Williams to be. But Kirk has matured more and really carries the sequel. He definitely has established himself as “Buck” for every film that may follow.
The same is true for Gordon Currie as Nicolae Carpathia. Gordon is able to bring about the subtle, yet deceptive transformation of a man perusing leadership under the power of evil. I enjoyed the performances by the rest of the cast… I just thought that Cameron and Currie truly delivered the goods.
The film “Left Behind” presents the chaos that will happen as a result of the Rapture event. “Tribulation Force” picks up the story just 7 days after the multitude of unexplained disappearances. Buck (a lead reporter for GNN) begins to establish himself as a voice of assurance to a chaotic world that is looking for answers. Ray Steele (Brad Johnson) is still struggling with the pain that his wife and son are gone. His pain is deep and heartfelt. He does receive some reassurance from his daughter Chloe (Janaya Stephens). Both have become Christians as a result of the world events and now give their energy and support to Pastor Bruce Barnes (Clarence Gilyard).
Pastor Barnes provides an important role on several fronts. He helps to supply answers to the grief-stricken by applying the prophetic truths of the book of Revelation. He also is active in organizing a “tribulation force” to help spread the Gospel and to expose the work of the Anti-Christ. The church—open as a triage center for the wounded—balances Barnes’ ministry.
Those who know the book remember that it doesn’t take long before Nicolae extends an invitation to Buck to help him with publicity. Ray is also hired as one of the pilots for Nicolae’s private jet. The rest of the film unfolds this “what-if” saga with the unveiling of a one-world religion and a one-world monetary system. This film also realistically portrays the scoffing and mockers of God, particularly in one scene where Pastor Barnes gives an invitation to repent, yet several people leave.
Christians who were disappointed with the admittedly weak gospel message in the first “Left Behind” will be happy to know that evangelist Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron (partners in evangelism ministry at WayoftheMaster.com) rewrote part of the script to include a stronger evangelistic message using the Law to convict of sin. Way to go Ray and Kirk! May God use it mightily!
It is my sincere hope that viewers who may have been disappointed with the first film in the series give this sequel another chance. I do know that reading the books before hand is not required, but can greatly enhance the viewing experience. This film is more than an example of Christian entertainment at it’s best—it is another opportunity for thoughtful reflection and prayerful examination of our lives before God. I highly recommend “Left Behind II” and would encourage the actors and staff at Cloud Ten Pictures to keep up the good work!
The themes are obviously spiritual and imply a literal reading of the final biblical book, “The Revelation of John.” There is some “over-acting” and the giving of the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia (referring to the biblical “Nicolaitans” and the “Carpathian Mountains”—also called the “Transylvanian Alps”), a “Transylvania”-“Count Dracula” accent is cartoonish. But the overall story is engaging. It is helpful if you’ve read the books and seen the first film, but it is not necessary to have done so to enjoy this second installment…
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1)The belief that all of history is a story under His control is a major message of the Bible. If this assertion is true, then what part do individual Christians play within this story? 2) Understanding that the indescribable nature of prophecy is beyond our mental and linguistic ability to describe, how should we approach the symbolism in the Revelation of John? How do we know which descriptions are symbolic and which are literal? 3) The prophecies of the Old Testament have not convinced most Jewish scholars that they are fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, so knowing the apocalyptic prophecies of John may not convince some people today of God’s hand in history. What is difficult for you in understanding or believing these prophecies and what difference does your belief or lack of belief make in your life?
—Denny and Hal, Cinema in Focus