"Dogma" Movie Review: ReFocus

6/26/2010 Posted by Admin

Movie Review: Refocus


By our guest blogger, John Shannon

Editor's note: With new movies coming out every Friday, new DVDs every Tuesday, and nearly a hundred years worth of film history to draw from, it’s easy for some titles to get lost in the shuffle. “ReFocus” is a weekly column detailing a film that for one reason or another deserves revisiting. Whether it’s simply providing further context or taking a second look at a misplaced classic, we’re here to continue the conversation and give films their proper view.

This week…


In 1997, Kevin Smith was on the brink of a huge comeback. His debut, “Clerks,” was the talk of the town in 1994, but his second effort, “Mallrats,” is now among most pointed to examples of the “sophomore slump.” With a screenplay from the heart and a solid cast, his third film, “Chasing Amy,” put him back in the spotlight, and now he had a second chance to cement his place as an indie icon.

To lay down the brick, he chose “Dogma,” a comic fantasy that dealt with hefty ideas concerning the concepts of religion and faith. The strong character work in “Chasing Amy” led many respected actors to his door. With a cast including Matt Damon, Linda Florentino, Ben Affleck, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock and Alanis Morissette, Smith began to film his tale of two renegade angels on a mission to defy God.

With a script filled with foul language, comic book violence, mature themes and pointed jabs at the Catholic church, Smith’s distributor got cold feet, and after completion, it sold the film to a smaller company. The film was dumped into theatres with little fanfare. The only significant publicity was the strong protest movement put into motion after a few churchgoers got word of the film’s supposed “anti-Christian” message.

These protestors rallied without seeing the actual film, going on hearsay and reacting in the worst ways possible. Smith received multiple death threats, but maintained a jovial outlook. A comedian at heart, he couldn’t help but join in on the fun, going undercover to a local protest rally and jokingly railing against his own film. The incident was captured on film by the local news.

“Dogma” speaks for itself, though. Little defense is needed. While it does contain many solid jokes at the Catholic Church’s expense, the points Smith makes about religion and being unnecessarily bound together are valid. The message of “Dogma” isn’t how terrible a thing religion is, but rather how beautiful it can be when regarded with proper respect and context.

Bartleby and Loki, two fallen angels banished to earth, have discovered a loophole provided within Catholic dogma that allows for their return to Heaven. Of course, this will prove God to be infallible, thus negating all of existence. Everything works the way it does because God is an absolute. If proved otherwise, the universe would unwind upon itself. This extreme situation is used as evidence to further Smith’s point--when humans try to apply rules and regulations to something they fundamentally cannot understand, no good can come of it. It is better to have a good idea than to use that idea as a solid necessity.

While Bartleby and Loki attempt to regain entrance to heaven, the Lost Apostle and the Metatron join Bethany, a chosen woman, in effort to stop them. Both sides are played for laughs and pathos, and the audience can certainly see both sides to the argument. As much as we don’t want the world to be unmade, we can’t help feeling sorry for the two angels who just want to go home.

The film is the most competently made of Smith’s features. Smith always has been a better writer than director, and here is his first use of widescreen format, and he uses it well. There are no stand-out directorial flourishes, only the events presented clearly and effectively.

The flourishes come with the written word, which is verbose and grand. Smith has a gift with language that many screenwriters would kill for, and the film’s structure is a perfect engine building toward the final confrontation between our two parties. He keeps exposition to a minimum, and while there are a few debates in place regarding religion and its uses, they feel as though they are organic to the story and not unnecessary indulgences.

Overall, the film is an overlooked but well-played satire of faith and credence, marking Smith as a voice always worth listening to. His output in recent years hasn’t been as ingenious as this, but with a passion project entitled “Hit Somebody” on deck, Smith may be making headlines again very soon.

What do you think? Half the fun is getting in on the conversation, so sound off in the comments below. Whether you agree or disagree your opinion is welcome, and we’d love to hear it.

John Shannon can be reached at refocusjohn@gmail.com

Next week on ReFocus: “Kung Fu Panda”

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  1. Hrushi said...

    Doesn't the photo look funny? :P