Left Behind (2014)

(Video on Demand, January 2015)  This is actually the second time that the infamous 1995 novel Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins has been adapted as a movie, but what’s interesting here is that this second adaptation focuses on a fairly narrow portion of the original novel: what happens to passengers on a transatlantic flight after the Rapture whisks away the righteous, leaving the sinners to fend for themselves.  Compared to the novel, Left Behind quickly dispenses with the wider end-time context to focus on the captain of the flight (a generally restrained performance by Nicolas Cage) as everyone, in the air or on the ground, loses their minds trying to figure out what happened.  It turns into a surprisingly conventional airplane-thriller in time for the harsh-landing ending, leaving for a sequel any mentions of the antichrist and assorted tribulations.  The result may not be entirely credible, but it’s intriguing enough to see such a religious premise being dealt with in almost pure thriller terms.  Even more surprising is the portrait of believers in the film: Many of them are annoying in their righteousness and proselytizing, and once the true believers have been raptured away, those who remain are exposed as frauds or being of insufficient faith.  In short; compared to everything you may have heard about the book, Left Behind isn’t quite your expected fire-breathing radical religious tract.  On the other hand, Left Behind does remain part of the much-maligned Christian-movie subgenre, and no amount of “wow, that’s interesting” considerations can quite patch the actual problems of the film: It’s cheaply-made, poorly written, ridiculous in its plotting (especially as father and daughter collaborate to bring an airplane down on a highway), wastes Nicolas Cage and doesn’t compare favorably to recent examples of airplane thrillers such as Snakes on a Plane or Non-Stop.  I may be fascinated because I have read the book and can see the differences, but I expect that viewers who come to this film cold may not be as interested.

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