Steve Martin's Miracle Man
Michael Keaton was originally cast as miracle man Jonas Nightengale in "Leap of Faith" but when he left the production Steve Martin stepped in and for me made this slightly unusual comedy drama much better just because of his natural talent as a showman. Now I did say that "Leap of Faith" is unusual and there are a couple of reasons the first of which whilst being a drama it also allows Steve Martin to exhibit some nice moments of comedy yet still show his credentials when it comes to dealing with dramatic scenes. And the other unusual thing, well not so much unusual but interesting as you get a glimpse at some of the techniques and tricks which miracle men and fake faith healers employ to dupe audiences.
When fake faith healer Jonas Nightengale (Steve Martin - HouseSitter) finds his travelling show stranded in a small back water town thanks to one of his trucks breaking down, he decides to not waste an opportunity and sets about putting on a show and making some money. But Sheriff Will Braverman (Liam Neeson - Taken) believes that Jonas is a con artist, a fake miracle man and sets about bringing him and his whole rolling show down despite falling for his assistant Jane Larson (Debra Winger - An Officer and a Gentleman).
The storyline to "Leap of Faith" itself is amazingly quite good, as the focus of the movie is on the character of Jonas, a seasoned con artist who is so used to conning people, that he has started to believe his own lies. We watch the story progress as Jonas goes from being very self assured and in control of everything and everyone to someone who starts to lose his focus as his trusted companions start to make lives for themselves. This is where the movie will split people because unless you can accept and like the character of Jonas you will find this movie an overlong dirge. Adding to the storyline is the blossoming relationship between Jane and the local Sheriff, which although never gains much screen time is an admirable diversion from the main story.
Part of the fascination with "Leap of Faith" is in the way it demonstrates some of the methods that are employed to fool people into believing that Jonas is a miracle man with healing powers. Some of them seem a little far fetched, but the majority of them really make you think and see how easy it could be for someone to seem to have knowledge of you. There are numerous scenes which demonstrate how these fake abilities can be created, but one which stands out in my memory the most involves Jonas's team of assistance when they are assisting the audience to their seats. They are continually prying information from the unsuspecting audience so that they can give Jonas all the information to perform his act.
The main focus of "Leap of Faith" is Steve Martin as Jonas, and he is at his most entertaining when he is dancing around the stage like the energizer bunny, the same sort of enthusiastic stage performance of the great James Brown. His character although given plenty of background is not the most complex, which works in its favour as it helps to keep the movie on the boundaries of light hearted drama. I've always been a fan of Steve Martin when he has played purely comedic roles, but generally find his occasional trips into more serious roles a bit tiresome. In this case, he has definitely pulled it off, with both sides of Jonas's character equally balanced and equally enjoyable.
Partnering up as his right hand man, or should that be woman, is Debra Winger as Jane Larson. Winger, as always, puts in a first class performance and works as the perfect straight man to Martin's exuberant comedy. Plus the romantic scenes between Jane and the Sheriff are beautifully played out, and add a nice sub plot for the main story. Other notable names who put in strong and crucial performances are Liam Neeson, Lolita Davidovich, Lukas Haas, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meat Loaf, although the latter does not have that bigger part in the movie.
"Leap of Faith" is directed by Richard Pearce who has mainly worked on numerous TV shows and in some ways this feels like it could have been a TV movie had it not been for the big name cast. Peace doesn't really put a foot wrong with this movie but then again he doesn't really do anything of any significance. Probably the most memorable thing he does is to use Martin's exuberance and a very upbeat soundtrack to whip up the viewer just at the right time, as if they were at one of the meetings. The whole soundtrack is very upbeat with a strong reference to gospel music, but also has some more contemporary artists such as Don Henley and Patti LaBelle.
What this all boils down to is that in general "Leap of Faith" is very enjoyable, not laugh out loud funny but very entertaining. The balance of comedy and drama works surprisingly well, with the comedy side of it taking a backseat to the story. The fact that it demonstrates some of the ways that fake faith healers go about their business makes it a very interesting watch and really makes you think about some of the things you have seen, including fortune tellers. Although Steve Martin puts in a great performance, I doubt that this will be everyone's cup of tea as it is a departure from his mainly comedy roles. Plus although it has some big names from cinema it really does play like a television movie that you would see on a weekday afternoon.