Director: Richard Pearce
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Jonas Nightingale (Steve Martin) is a con-man who poses as a faith healer. He goes from town to town putting on large tent revivals, looking to squeeze as much money as possible out of each town before moving on to the next one. When his bus breaks down in a small poor town, Jonas sets up shop, looking to cash in. It may not be so easy this time around as he faces adversity from the local sheriff and meets a hopeful disabled boy who may flip Jonas' world view on its head.
Directed by Richard Pearce, "Leap of Faith" is a comedy that offers a satirical look at the world of tent revival evangelism and faith healers. It stars Steve Martin as Jonas Nightingale, a con-man who poses as an evangelist and faith healer. He goes from town to town with his crew and exploits those who are desperate and looking for answers, taking what little money they have by preaching that giving money away will make it return ten-fold. What the faithful see as 'miracles' are actually technological trickery, audience plants, and subliminal suggestions perpetrated by Nightingale and his accomplices. Those making up his crew include Jane, played by Debra Winger, Hoover, played by Meatloaf, Matt, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Tiny, played by M.C. Gainey. When they have trouble with one of their buses, they are forced to make an unscheduled stop in a small farming town on the brink of financial ruin due to an extended drought. That doesn't stop Jonas from setting up shop and trying to squeeze what little he can out of this desperate town. Sheriff Will Braverman, played by Liam Neeson, doesn't take to kindly to the idea of having these fakers in his town and does his best to expose Jonas for what he really is, though Jonas always seems to be one step ahead of him.
"Leap of Faith" will certainly be a controversial movie because of its subject matter, even though much of what Jonas does is inspired by actual faith healers and televangelists. One in particular was Peter Popoff, who inspired the earpiece trick which is also showcased in the movie. The filmmakers are also hit with the hard task of making a man who is taking money from the poor and desperate appear to be likable to the audience. This is achieved through the charm and comedic talent of Steve Martin and his supporting cast, who do a rather superb job portraying such seedy and somehow interspersing characters. We wound up enjoying the absurdity of Nightingale's antics and his over-the-top showmanship of his tent revivals. Despite its seeming condemnation of evangelists, there is an ultimate redemption that offers a message of the importance of faith by making the audience question theirs at every turn.
Though there's a lot of trickery implemented here, "Leap of Faith" manages to be somewhat honest despite what you may think. Its dramatic elements shine and it has a lot of quippy comedy, plus, some excellent performances by Martin, Winger, Hoffman, and a very young Neeson.
My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 67%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?