Review: Leap of Faith

Directed by: Richard Pearce
Written by: Janus Cercone
Starring: Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Liam Neeson
Released: 1992 / Genre: Comedy-Drama-Satire / Country: USA / IMDB
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Part of our Top 10 Steve Martin Films
If you liked Leap of Faith also check out other Steve Martin films: L.A. Story & Roxanne
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Steve Martin is conman Jonas Nightengale who travels the country with his Christian ministry selling the idea of faith and the power of god to bring good health and prosperity to those that come to his show. He uses all the tricks in the book – from cameras and recording equipment, to insiders, stooges, special stage effects, and showmanship – to bring miracles to his hoodwinked audience.

Leap Of Faith seems to be one of those Steve Martin films that neither won over critics or delighted fans of the actor. It isn’t a typical Martin film (less comedy, more satirical drama), and it isn’t a typical Martin character (he plays a difficult-to-like con artist who’s self-obsessed and unforgiving). It’s easy to see why it might have passed people by, and, in dealing (some may say very loosely) with the Christian faith, why it turned people away. But there’s a lot to like in Leap Of Faith, especially Martin’s virtuoso performance.

leap of faith, steve martin,

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Martin is the all singing and dancing Jonas Nightengale. He owns the stage every time he’s on it, prancing around with arms pointing to heaven, the power of God sweeping through his veins. He is the bringer of good vibes, the healer of wounds and ailments, the direct line to heaven. He brilliantly portrays the showman tactics of some faith healers, from the way he works the crowd with his words of wisdom to his physical attributes in enacting God’s power. This is one of Martin’s most unique performances and one of his best.

The film itself is also a lot more worthy than it’s given credit for. It’s inside look at the tricks of the trade in the high-tech era is an interesting expose, with Debra Winger offering good support as the all-seeing director who feeds information to Jonas via a secreted earpiece. The film also examines faith itself, questioning both the validity of a higher being, and the meaning of faith. Jonas may not produce the miracles that he advertises, but he has his audience leave the show knowing one has happened. Indeed, faith is only that which we believe. Jonas simply confirms that. People pay for a few laughs, some singing and dancing and crowd participation, and they go home happier and more fulfilled than they went in. The film asks: is that morally wrong?

Yes, the message isn’t quite clear when the film grinds to a halt by the end. Certainly, Leap of Faith isn’t anywhere near as good as the performance of its leading man: the cryptic, obscure ending is abrupt, Nightengale goes off into the night without closure, and the blossoming romance between Winger and Liam Neeson is soap-opera at best. But, this is one of Steve Martin’s best performances, and one of his most interesting.

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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