This weekend you might be drawn to George Clooney’s “The Ides of March,” a predictable political drama in which lust — for both sex and power — conquers idealism once again. By all means see it for Ryan Gosling’s stiff performance, some immense close-ups on Clooney’s pores and a surprisingly decent turn by Evan Rachel Wood. While you wait, though, let me recommend tonight’s NYC premiere of Dennis W. Ho’s documentary “Subway Preacher,” which kicks off Exit Art‘s new Digimovies program as the center unveils a new cinema space (there’s a bar there, fyi). The film unpredictably follows a born-again Christian pastor as temptations corrupt and complicate his ministry, which is located in the tunnels of a Manhattan subway station. Slight parallels can be drawn between “March” and “Preacher,” but as they always say, truth is a far more interesting play of morals and compromised ideals than fiction.
“The plot thickens,” Pastor Brian says as indeed his own life ventures in an unforeseen direction (as long as you avoid reading the film’s synopsis and trailer). He is admittedly the sort of unlovable character that perhaps only Jesus, and maybe sometimes his most dear disciples, could love. He can change his life by convincing himself its the Lord’s plan, and he can blame mistakes on the Devil’s ability to confuse and misdirect even the most devout followers of Christ. It’s easy to just review a verite work like this by reviewing its subjects, and I’m sure many will judge it as a portrait of religious nut jobs, up there in mock-ability with “Tabloid”‘s Joyce McKinney and John Mark Byers of the “Paradise Lost” films. There’s something different about Brian, though. He doesn’t appear to be putting on a show the way those other two examples do. He’s hardly honest with himself, let alone others, but there’s a greater candidness with this film that feels more objectively genuine.
Perhaps Brian is just not bright enough to guard himself, or maybe he’s intently more open and transparent. Either way, he’s a fascinating person, and his world is as intriguing as any centered in the underground tunnels of mass transit — think Besson’s “Subway” and Antal’s “Kontroll” — as well as one of the best cinematic surveys of the reaches of New York City since Ramin Bahrani (“Man Push Cart”; “Chop Shop”) left town. He may think that he’s an unlovable soul, and maybe he’s correct, but this film about Pastor Brian and his complicated relationships with God and his congregation is certainly a lovable piece of work.
“Subway Preacher” screens at NYC’s Exit Art tonight.
Recommended If You Like: documentaries about evangelical preachers; “Man Push Cart”; “Subway”