Beyond The Mask: A Movie Review
Or, more aptly titled, A Critique
Beyond the Mask follows the story of an ex-assassin attempting to redeem his name in an effort to be worthy of the woman he loves.
So how exactly does one begin to review a full-length feature film involving intrigue, suspense, murder, romance, and revenge?
I haven’t the slightest notion. But, per the request of a friend, I shall give it my best shot.
SPOILER ALERT! If you have not yet seen the movie, let the reader beware: this review lets a few cats out of the bag.
Finally! A Christian homeschool film with top-notch acting! The addition of a performance coach and professionals like John Rhys-Davies (Charles Kemp), Andrew Cheney (William Reynolds), and Kara Killmer (Charlotte Holloway) took the production quality up a million times in comparison with Pendragon, the last film produced by Burns’ Family Studios.
This movie has the true flavor of everything that goes into making action tales believable; gorgeously clear cinematography, authentic costumes, spectacular stunts (makes me almost want to try roof-jumping while being chased and shot at!), unexpected plot twists (electrocuted uncle, anyone?), and a simply smashing musical score.
All together, it added up to one amazingly well put together film.
That was the nice part of the review.
Now on to the critique!
I had a hard time getting into the story. Little things like dead men still breathing (whoops), failing to explain major plot twists (whoever stole that manuscript, anyway?), and lots of up close and personal romantic shots all combined to make me rather confused and quite uncomfortable. I really wish the makers had cut out a few of the mushier spots and instead taken the time to develop Will and Charlotte’s relationship; showing you why they even came to love each other in the first place.
And what happened to George Washington? All the paintings of the era portray him as a man of noble stature, with regal demeanor and a roman nose. So when George shows up instead as a man of small proportions, with aquiline nose and a pinched expression (was someone stepping on his toe?), I was rather surprised. Thank goodness they thought to announce him with subtitles below; otherwise I shouldn’t have known him from Adam. And his wig! Oh, the agonies a wig like that gives to any lover of beauty. Heavens, I am so grateful that style is out and real hair is in!
While on the topic of hair, let’s talk about
It is simply perfect. All the time. Even after being windblown, tied up, thrown
around, and almost drowned. That, my dear readers, is what all ladies look like
after such experiences. Simply flawless hair and makeup (did mascara even exist
in 1770?). But I digress. Charlotte
The movie left me with a lot of questions. How did Will find out about the assassination plot at the ball? What on earth was the point of the tavern scene? And how did they manage to run wires underwater without anyone detecting? This is 1770, folks. They didn’t even have scuba gear then. And then there’s the romantic scene in the pond. Really? She can’t swim, explosions are all around them, a burning windmill is collapsing on their heads, and the producers decide that this is a good spot for the actors to gaze deeply into each other’s eyes. Whatever happened to preservation instincts? Survival, anyone?
And then we have Will. Dear Will, proposing to Caroline, and offering to care for her forever, when he is condemned and on his way to death. Guys, however romantic the producers made this out to be, it is in no way endearing to the ladies. No gentleman would make such an offer. Fortunately for him, however, he escapes his pickle when a note of pardon opportunely arrives. The movie ends with a romantic embrace, leading one to conclude that “love conquers all!” and “all’s well that ends well”.
These, however, are small bones to pick.
All told, the production quality was top-of-the-line. This is one of the rare Christian films where they strove for and achieved excellence in almost every quarter. Now, lest I have squished the toes of any die-hard BTM fans with the “almost all”, give me a chance to explain:
Throughout the film, Will has used his life to perpetrate crimes against the innocent and further the grasping reach of his villainous employer. In short, he is a wicked man, and he knows it.
But then he meets her. The girl he’s always dreamed of. And somehow, deep down inside, he knows that he isn’t worthy of her heart.
So what does he do? Why, the goose proposes, of course!
Now, at this point I owe you, the reader, a touch of back story. Right before the proposal scene,
has just had a conversation with her mother in which she really questions the
authenticity of Will’s conversion. This should be a major red flag to her,
because the Scriptures command Christians never to marry an unbeliever (1
Corinthians 6:14, 15). However, when Will proposes later that night, she
doesn’t tell him no; instead she tells him that she needs advice in making such
a life-changing decision, and wishes to consult with her uncle before
answering. Up to now, all is spot-on. Charlotte
But wait; what’s this? She starts to back pedal; instead of waiting for the sound advice of said Uncle, she goes ahead and accepts his offer of marriage anyway!
I cringe to think about the message this scene just sent to thousands of dear little girls across the nation:
“Even though my guy admits that he is a truly bad man, and I am seriously questioning his salvation, I really love him! And if he loves me, then this can’t be wrong, as long as my guardian gives us his smile of approval."
In short, the message of this act was that it is in your best interest to disobey the commands of the Sovereign King, as long as you do it for love. Follow your heart, dears!
Only, little do these girls know that the heart is deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9), and that all who forsake the LORD and His law will themselves be put to shame (Jeremiah 17:13) and forsaken (2 Chronicles 15:2).
I also had a horrible time justifying how Will’s “trial” was handled, if you can even call it that. Biblical law requires that there be at least two witnesses to a crime to bring an accusation to trial (Matthew 18:16). This is all good. However, it commands that those witnesses be truthful (Exodus 20:16). No search was made to confirm the character of the witnesses involved, and no due diligence was performed to ensure that they were, indeed, honest citizens attempting to bring about justice and save the life of the innocent (Proverbs 14:25). They were in fact malicious witnesses, and the punishment for committing such a heinous injustice is nothing short of death (Exodus 23:1, Deuteronomy 19:15-21).
When the bad report was believed which condemned the innocent to death and let the guilty go free, I felt that I could empathize with Lot, whose righteous soul was greatly distressed and tormented over such lawless deeds (2 Peter 2:8).
Where there is no justice, there can be no peace. In the movie or out of it!
So now we have Will, unjustly condemned, sitting in a jail cell; about to hang for attempted murder. Though innocent of this particular crime, he still feels the dreadful weight of his past sin and guilt upon his shoulders, and confesses to the chaplain that he can no longer bear it himself.
To which the preacher replies, “You do not have to. There is One who bore it for you; the LORD Jesus Christ.”
Up to this point in the story, Will has been attempting to redeem his name in his own strength. But now, when all his plans have come to naught and he is ruined, he calls upon the Lord to save him. This is the way salvation should work; that we must be shown the utter hopelessness of our condition before we can fully grasp the gift that is offered. Be that as it may, I felt that the producers made Christ into a last resort, to be fallen upon only when all other means have failed. Jesus is not a ticket out of our consequences; He is the Sovereign King of the universe; He demands our all, not our leftovers.
When Will is allowed one last chance to see his beloved before his execution, the excitement on his face is contagious. Whatever he prayer he prayed, whatever happened to him in that dank prison cell, changed his life forever. But it is here, at the culmination of his life-story, that the creators of Beyond the Mask ran aground.
Caught up in the zeal and emotion of this new Christian, and his perfect peace and assurance even in the face of certain death, one hangs on every word he speaks. He is clearly a changed man now, for the Lord has taken his worthless name and completely redeemed it!
But the sweetness of his testimony is abruptly terminated by Charlotte, who listens to his tale only long enough to grasp the fact that she is now free to marry him, and then interrupts to tell of her escape plan.
The glory of God is the supreme purpose of man’s redemption (Ephesians 1:12), but all the glory in this scene went instead to
for being the inspiration behind
his conversion. Charlotte
At the very end of the film, Will is pardoned of the notorious crimes he previously committed (many deserving of death), because of the part he played in the saving of many lives.
And now the conundrum sets in. Biblically, Will deserves death, no matter how penitent he has become (See Numbers 35:16-21). But the filmmakers have done an excellent job of working on our emotions; so much so, that we even hope justice cannot be fulfilled so that our precious fugitive may live!
However, we cannot just put aside God’s laws to honor the preferences of men. That would be putting ourselves on the Throne of God. The long and short of the matter is this:
Are we Sovereign, or is God?
In Numbers 35, God warns us to accept no substitute for the life of a murderer, even if he is repentant. Why? Verse 34 says that it will defile the land itself if justice is not meted out. And do you know what happens to the inhabitants of a defiled land? The earth spits (literally, vomits) them out (Leviticus 18:28-30)!
If we allow evil to go free, the Lord holds us personally accountable, and we end up being spit out by our lands. Whether that spitting out occurs by famine, pestilence, or an enemy sword, no nation wishes to incur or experience the awesome wrath of God.
The way the producers dealt with the concept of forgiveness was misleading: ultimately, the film became not a nation re-building call to repentance, but a nation-destroying nod to the Sovereignty of Man.
As R.J. Rushdoony eloquently states,
“God’s possession of the earth means that God’s laws of tenure and tenancy alone prevail. Possession and inheritance requires that we believe and obey God. We must keep His Sabbaths, pay His tithes, enforce His laws, and in all things acknowledge that He is the LORD.
If we fail to do these things, we are subject to His judgments. And if the judgments of the Almighty do not arouse us from the abuse of His property, ourselves, and the earth- dispossession follows.”
To sum it all up, Beyond the Mask was an epic movie.
But despite the greatly improved acting, beautiful cinematography, jaw-dropping stunts, and literally mind-blowing special effects, the movie still fell short of its mark.
Because if it’s Christian, it ought to be better.
Not on par with
but better. Hollywood
Especially when it comes to vitally important themes like salvation, forgiveness, and redemption. These topics are the ones that should be the clearest, most easily understood, most impactful parts of the film- these, of all topics, are where Christians most ought to excel! Because we have answers the world will never be able to give; answers only Christ can provide- and yet this is the place where the message became most muddied.
This quote by one moviegoer says it all:
“I am a liberal atheist, so imagine my apprehension when I walked into this movie and saw commercials for Focus on the Family, Homeschooling, and Libertarian Home Study programs! I was sure I’d walked into a preachy bit of tedium.
My worries were completely allayed by the movie, however, which was an enjoyable story which cared more about pacing and world-building than it did proselyting (sic)…. It’s more Assassin’s Creed than it is what you might think when you picture a Christian indie. Indeed, God is dwelt on so infrequently that I’d imagine in real life at this time God was mentioned more often.”
In conclusion, Beyond the Mask left moviegoers emotionally satisfied, morally uplifted, and visually enamored, but spiritually in the dark.
“The night is far gone;
the day is at hand.
So then let us cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.”
“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”