Crossroad (Youssefian 2012)
How to describe the ideal target audience for Crossroad? Imagine someone said he had invented a time machine and you could use it ONCE and rather than kill Hitler or save a loved one from 9/11, a person thought…you know what would help the most amount of people? Let me go back in time and kidnap an 8 year old Quentin Tarantino and send him to Jesus Camp…then he might have ended up making films that are, you know, good.
More or less an evangelical (and evangelistic) version of Crash, the film begins with a stalker accidentally killing the woman he has followed and then inadvertently smothering her daughter, who has witnessed the crime. If you’ve never wondered what makes certain Christian viewers or organizations put their seal of approval on a work of art–a message from the Dove Foundation before the film assures us that they have labeled the film as “safe”–this one will make you start. It must have to do with how a scene is shot, with the absence of blood splatter, profanity, or nudity. Smothering a child to death (or did he strangle her?) onscreen? Family approved!
Lest my musings be mistaken for an even more puritanical standard than what these sort of content seal of approvals usually entail, I hasten to underline that my confusion is more abstract than narrow–it’s about what the category “family safe” even means, not why this film qualifies.
Once the back story is set we are introduced to a number of characters, seemingly unrelated, who each end up at a diner. When the proprietor lets slip that he heard on the news that a murderer was freed after six years for “inadmissible evidence” and we see the murderer from the opening scene as a yet unidentified stranger in the diner, we can more or less predict the last 90% of the film.
That would be okay if the film were tight or well executed, but it has the labored pace of the developing writer, with the most generic scenes (opening a safe at gunpoint, standing up to a bully with a knife) elongated because they are supposed to be suspenseful and any distinctive scenes that might develop characters or differentiate the people cut to the bare minimum. The result is a script that appears to have only one pace and pitch, and that ends up blunting the emotional impact of every scene, even the ones that do pack genuine emotion.
And yet for all that there are moments that convince you that writer/director Shervin Youssefian is not without an understanding of the foundations of narrative. He knows how to choreograph a scene, even when most of the action takes place in a single room. The editing and mise en scene are competent and make it look like a professional movie even when the dialogue sounds like a church production. The acting, as we’ve come to expect from Christian productions, is better than the script, although it, too, is uneven. Many of the actors are professionals from television or film and round out their scenes with little touches that make them work–but they can’t quite cause them to work together in a cohesive whole.
The problem with Crossroad is not that it is Christian nor even that it is preachy. There is a market for this sort of film and those who approve of what the artists are attempting are historically more or less deaf to the cries of critics about how skillfully or artistically they are doing it. “Christian” doesn’t have to mean technically inferior to secular films, but once there is a market in which technical merit is irrelevant, it usually does. Still, one can see that there is a certain amount of professional pride invested by the cast and crew, and that makes it…bearable. Perhaps we’ve reached the point where the the artists are better than the market will let them be, where quality is no longer an afterthought but is still just a second thought.