Jonas Nightengale is a fraudulent Christian faith healer who makes a living travelling around America holding revival meetings and conducting 'miracles' with the help of his friend and manager, Jane, and their entourage. One of their trucks breaks down in Rustwater, a town in desperate need of rain to save their crops. While waiting for spare parts, Jonas decides to hold a revival meeting in the town. The local sheriff, Will Braverman, is skeptical and tries to prevent his town and its people from being conned. However a local disabled boy, Boyd, believes Jonas could make him walk again. Events in Rustwater make Jonas examine his own faith and doubts.
***Religious cons take advantage of the incurable human need for faith beyond the mundane***
“Leap of Faith” (1992) tackles the topic of a fraudulent traveling evangelist/faith healer played by Steve Martin. One of the trucks of his religious circus breaks down in a small town in Kansas and Jonas Nightingale (Martin) promptly takes advantage of the situation by holding a camp meeting. Debra Winger plays his assistant while Liam Neeson is on hand as the skeptical sheriff who smells a con. Lolita Davidovich plays a waitress Jonas sets his eyes on while Lukas Haas appears as her crippled brother. Jonas’ team includes the likes of Meat Loaf and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
This is a drama and not a comedy and owes a bit to the likes of “The Music Man” (1962), “Dream No Evil,” (1970) “Elmer Gantry” (1960) and “The Faith Healer” (1921). But it goes deeper into the philosophic wellsprings of human need: the quest for meaning in life and the longing for the eternal.
Jonas justifies his show on the grounds that it makes people feel better by entertaining and inspiring them. He works the crowd with what he has learned about human nature, zeroing in on those needing him the most with the help of his 'angels,' Jane (Winger) & crew. The average person throws $10-20 into the plate and they get entertainment and inspiration in return. They go home with a stronger faith. So what’s the problem? The Sheriff, Will (interesting name), sees the scam, but also sees, like realists do, the hypnotic draw of religion and the corresponding faith. He settles for trying to reach one of whom he senses genuineness.
The drama is a mishmash of kinetic parts, mundane parts, disturbing parts and moments of wonder. The ending is great, though, in that it both entertains & inspires; and you leave with a good feeling, ironically just like the people who visit Jonas’ tent revival, lol.
The movie runs 1 hour, 48 minutes and was shot entirely in the panhandle of Texas (Plainview, Groom, Tulia, Claude and Happy), plus studio stuff done in Irving.
Paramount by Richard Pearce, Janus Cercone.
Stars: Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson.
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Keywords: cheating small town kansas preacher super power evangelist faith healer
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