Robert Pattinson’s new movie, Preacher, is the story of a conflicted preacher who sells his soul to the devil (pretty standard stuff). But it’s also the story of how he tries to maintain his faith in God while still serving Satan. And it’s a comedy/drama hybrid that somehow feels fresh.
Let’s run down the basics. Pattinson plays the titular character, Jesse Custer, a disillusioned preacher who breaks ties with the Lord and then embarks upon a road to redemption. He teams up with a wisecracking assistant (Pattinson) whose cynicism and wit serve as his shield and salvation. Together, they form a sort of anti-Satanist team, battling the evil forces that beleaguer our hero. It’s like The Simpsons meets The Exorcist. But in a good way.
More Than Meets The Eye
For a while, Pattinson’s acting career seemed like a total fluke. He was famous for being the son of the famous Elizabeth Taylor and the then-boyfriend of the rich and famous Johnny Depp. But aside from some minor acting roles, he primarily focused upon his own interests – painting and writing poetry. He also put his thoughts out there on Twitter, where he has almost 7 million followers. That’s a lot of people with an interest in literature and art.
Pattinson’s foray into acting was a total shock to everyone. To film critics, he had starred in some dreadful movies (such as Robin Hood). And to movie fans, it was practically a career resurrection after the 28-year-old had seemingly hung up his acting gloves. Even his fans were surprised when he finally came out of retirement and signed on to play the titular role in Preacher. Based on the iconic comic book series created by Mike Mignola and Richard Corben, Preacher sees Pattinson play a character who is essentially a mix between Billy Graham and Father Douglass. It was an unusual decision for the actor, but he readily admits that it’s the type of character he always wanted to play.
Speaking of unusual casting decisions, the movie also features the always-welcome Danny Trejo in a prominent role. He plays an ex-cop and de facto bodyguard to Jesse Custer, the conflicted preacher at the center of this story. The movie co-stars Michael Cera, Walton Goggins, Dominic Cooper, Ben Mendelsohn, and Michael Kopech. It also co-stars Missi Pyle, the mother of Piper, Cera’s character’s daughter. It’s an ensemble cast, but every actor brings something unique and vital to the table.
It should come as no great surprise that a film about a conflicted preacher would be a comedy. However, this is one instance where the movie doesn’t completely live up to the hype. Preacher is a satirical look at religion (and the place of religion in society), but the movie never really laughs at the expense of the characters’ faiths. Instead, it often mocks its heroes’ weaknesses and foibles. The end result is more satire than comedy, but the mix feels fresh nonetheless.
It’s here where we need to discuss one of the major plot points of Preacher. After being possessed by a demon, Jesse Custer is seen by the public to be a dangerous insane man bent on mass murder. The only way to save humanity is for Jesse to sacrifice his soul to the devil. In order to do that, he must overcome his faith in God and his loyalty to the Kingdom of Heaven. For a while, the movie goes all in on the dramatic tension and ambiance. It works. But then the movie abruptly changes gears and becomes a frenetic car chase and chase scene across a city, complete with explosions and gunfire. It’s a jarring tonal shift, especially given what we just discussed. But the filmmakers apparently thought it was funny enough to warrant a few chuckles. So there you have it. Sometimes, comedy ensues.
More Serious Matters
There is some genuinely disturbing material in Preacher. This is not meant to scare you or offend you. It’s simply there to tell a story and to comment on issues relating to faith and belief. But it’s also one film where the satire is aimed at a more serious subject matter. Jesse Custer’s story is a warning to all those who would follow the same path. He preaches about the dangers of moral relativism and encourages viewers to stand up for what is right, even if society, religion, or your own self-interests tell you otherwise. It’s not a message that typically plays in comedy clubs, but it’s one that is ultimately an important one. More so than usual.
One could make the argument that Jesse Custer is the anti-hero of the story. He is certainly a headstrong, self-willed individual who will not bend the knee to anyone, including God. While on the road to redemption, he teams up with a cavalcade of colorful rogues who share his defiance and mistrust of authority. We follow them as they battle villains and rise up against the establishment. They’re on a divine mission to free the downtrodden and redeem mankind. So, yes, Jesse Custer is the anti-hero of the piece. But it’s also a warning to those who would follow in his footsteps.
Ain’t No Half-Stepping Here
Preacher may be a tricky one to parse, but it’s also one of the most interesting and creative movies of the year. On one level, it’s a story about a conflicted preacher who must decide if he is willing to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for power. On another, it’s a story about how to handle religious differences and challenges in a world that is constantly changing and evolving. The result is an extremely unique (and sometimes shocking) take on religion and its effect in society.
While Preacher is a vivid, colorful ride, it’s also an important examination of the role that religion plays in our society. The conversation around faith and belief is clearly meant to be a lively one. At least two men on each side are yelling at each other, while other characters sit back, shaking their heads in bewilderment. It’s not a typical shouting match. It’s a frank, open, and fascinating exchange of ideas. Plus, there’s a sequence where Jesse Custer performs an exorcism, which is both horrifying and hilarious at the same time.
There are some significant themes and messages in the film. The story centers around the idea of redemption and the conflict that often arises between doing the right thing for the sake of redemption and following one’s heart. The movie also deals with the idea of free will and how we are all responsible for our own actions, no matter what comes before us. It raises questions about the nature of evil and the struggle against it, as well as the place of religion in modern society. All in all, it’s a very meaty movie, both thematically and narratively speaking. It’s not for the faint of heart. But for those who can handle it, it’s a real treat.