In the same way “Left Behind” puts a faith-based spin on the apocalyptic genre, “Persecuted”takes a similar approach to the political/conspiracy thriller, pitting a man of strong religious convictions against the machinations of corrupt power and murderous deceit.
Busy character actor James Remar (Dexter’s father in “Dexter’) gets a rare lead role as John Luther, an influential televangelist with a national audience and a devout conscience. His influence is sought out by a senator (Bruce Davison) for support of vaguely defined legislation regarding equal treatment of all religions. Luther refuses to support what he views as a watering down of the word of God, and quickly finds himself on the run, the target of a conspiracy involving the murder of a young girl. Fred Dalton Thompson also stars as a priest who aids him in his quest to clear his name. Oh, and Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson shows up as (spoiler alert!) a tv news personality.
No matter where you stand politically or what party you affiliate with—Republican, Democrat, Green, Whig, Bullmoose, Wiccan, whatever– let me offer a reassurance from the start. Most likely you’ll be offended by the basic storytelling skills of “Persecuted” long before you can get riled up by (or start cheering for) its dull-witted take on a shadowy “House of Cards” vibe.
Blandly functional at best, and narratively incoherent at worst, “Persecuted” stakes its claim on the moral high ground from the first frames quoting MLK, but quickly finds itself stumbling from scene to clumsy scene like a drunken altar boy weaving down the aisle at early Mass. Murders are committed, characters and plot developments pass by in a blur, rambling monologues are delivered, voices are raised in righteous, lukewarm indignation. The cast seems blinkered by some of this, but it’s hard to blame them for such a mess. That’s like blaming the traffic cop for the potholes (plotholes?).
With its slick feel and formula execution, there’s a not-horrible straight-to-Netflix thriller walking around in here somewhere, but “Persecuted” keeps stubbing its toe on bad dialogue and choppy narrative. The filmmakers hit some of the big button topics that might appeal to the viewers they’re aiming at — government conspiracy, religious freedom at risk, the moral perils embodied in the senator’s executive hair. But writer/director Daniel Lusko plays it too polite to whip up a good ole’ wrathful lather, and it all adds up to a minor tri-fold pamphlet of a movie, an advertisement for the real movie it wishes it could be.
The Blu-ray of “Persecuted” is in 16×9 Widescreen. The disc transfer is adequate, if a bit dark and murky at times. There are options for English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The audio track is presented in Dolby True HD. There are no set-up options.
The Blu-ray version is reviewed here, but in the Blu-ray/DVD combo, the extras are on the DVD disc
- A commentary track with director/writer Daniel Lusko, cinematographer Richard Vialet, editor Brian Brinkman, and composer Chris Ridenhour. Some interesting comments on filming for a faith-based audience, and on the respective acting styles of stars James Remar and Bruce Davison. It’s also nice to hear from editor and composer, who don’t usually get their say in these things.
- A behind-the-scenes featurette
- A preaching-to-the-choir interview segment from the Daystar network with Lusko and Fred Dalton Thompson
“Persecuted” goes a long way towards proving that fans of “faith-based” feature films have every right to sit through lumpy, trivial thrillers like the rest of us heathens.