Left Behind (2001) Movie Review

As a mea culpa, let me say that I’m a Buddhist — and a sometimes too lapsed one at that. What does this have to do with the movie Left Behind? For those who don’t know, Left Behind is a feature-length adaptation of a popular and best-selling series of novels that focuses on an “end of the world” scenario as prophesized in the bible. What does all this mean? Most of all it means those who are unable to not snicker whenever they hear a bible passage behind recited need not bother. I have very little personal interest in the bible or its passages myself, but I also don’t have any disdain for those who read it religiously, and hence the movie’s concept of “end of the world as predicted by the bible” didn’t turn me off. A movie is a movie, and concepts are just that — movie concepts.

Left Behind stars Kirk Cameron (TV’s “Growing Pains”) as Buck Williams, an international news reporter for GNN (think CNN but with a “G”). While doing a story on Professor Rosenzweig (Colin Fox), a Jew who has developed a secret formula to grow crops out of the desert, Buck witnesses a mass invasion of Israel by Arab forces. Before the Israelis can respond, unknown forces mysteriously destroy the Arab planes! Before you can say “Isn’t that one of the signs of the apocalypse?” people begin to disappear, literally vanishing into thin air leaving their clothes and jewelry behind (re: material possessions). Just what is going on here? Intrepid reporter Buck is going to find out come hell or high water. Meanwhile, an adulterous pilot (Brad Johnson) tries to come to terms with his wife and son’s disappearance, and confront his own sins…

Bible prophesies aside, Left Behind is buoyed by an intriguing concept. It rolls the end of the world, the coming of an anti-Christ, and corporate conspiracy all into one entertaining ball. I have always been a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies regardless of “how” the end comes about, so Left Behind’s premise — the end of the world by means of celestial prophecy — is one of the better ones I’ve run across yet.

The above having been said, Left Behind suffers greatly from poor production values, particularly in the beginning during the “invasion” of Israel. The planes and tanks are obviously CGI, and quite shoddy CGI at that. The movie also maintains a consistent B-movie vibe throughout, which is mostly the fault of director Victor Sarin, a long-time TV director. Sarin handles the background actors poorly, and as a result people seem to be moving to and fro on automatic pilot. The soldiers are also poorly directed, looking like too-obviously fake extras instead of actual people.

The acting, led by former TV star Kirk Cameron as the improbably named Buck Williams, is sometimes off-kilter. Cameron looks uncomfortable playing the intrepid reporter, but he does gradually grow on you, mostly because you can’t help but like Mike Seaver. Whatever his true age, Cameron still looks much too young and boyish for the role of a famous and hardened international reporter. Brad Johnson, as pilot Ray, does a better job as the adulterous husband who confronts his sins only after his wife and son are “taken” by God. Johnson and Janaya Stephens, playing Ray’s daughter Chloe, has the movie’s best scenes.

In truth, I would have prefer the movie to focus on Ray and Chloe’s struggles to come to terms with missing the other half of their family. Instead much of the film follows Buck’s pursuit of the movie’s conspiracy angle. Such as it is the conspiracy is executed as rather silly and with all the excitement of a connect-the-dots drawing.

In a strange way, the movie might have worked best had it chucked the conspiracy angle and the whole biblical prophecy thing. A better movie might have been one that concerned itself with Ray, Chloe, and the rest of the world as they struggle to cope with half of the world having vanished into thin air without explanation. Of course this would completely destroy the movie’s insistence on a biblical prophecy, but it needn’t completely do away with the “righteousness” of those who disappeared and the presence of some “God,” as well as the “sins” of those who remained. All of these questions could have become internal, private battles within individuals.

Detractors of Left Behind will no doubt be most riled by the film’s deeply rooted belief in God and the bible’s ancient passages. This reaction would be a mistake, since the movie should be best looked on as an “end of the world” film with a low budget. Even if one refuses to believe in the biblical apocalypse nonsense, Left Behind is entertaining enough that I am anxious to see how it continues.

Although I have to admit, with all the bloodshed going on in the Middle East right now, things are starting to get…weird.

Victor Sarin (director) / Tim LaHaye, Jerry B. Jenkins (novel), John Bishop, Joe Goodman, Paul Lalonde, Alan B. McElroy (screenplay)
CAST: Kirk Cameron …. Buck Williams
Brad Johnson …. Rayford Steele
Janaya Stephens …. Chloe Steele
Clarence Gilyard Jr. …. Bruce Barnes

Buy Left Behind on DVD