“Frank vs. God”
When we meet David Frank, a once hotshot lawyer, we see that he is having a very rough time. He is shattered by the death of his wife, he spends days in his bathrobe with his only real companion, his beloved bulldog, Brutus. Then a tornado hits and he watches helplessly as house and Brutus are carried off in the funnel of destruction. As if that is not enough, his insurance company tells him they won’t pay because the damage falls under the ‘Act of God’ clause in his policy. David is enraged. But then he gets the bright idea to sue God and God’s representatives as co-defendants. After a series of depositions, the trial commences and it is fueled by a megalomaniac and opportunistic judge, a beautiful but damaged defense attorney, and David Frank’s own sharply honed legal gymnastics, the “God Trial” stirs up passions.
I must say right out that I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I can only remember one other film that I have seen in which God is put on trial and that once is quite serious. It is set in Auschwitz during the Holocaust so I found it a pleasure to be able to laugh at the premise in a comedy. The plot is believable, the acting is credible, and the humor is comically satiric with no blasphemy (and I do often love blasphemy). rather than salacious–all elements, which give the film a definite edge over other films, directed at the same demographic.
The plot follows the developments of a lawsuit brought to the Florida state court by renowned attorney David Frank (Henry Ian Cusick). As I mentioned earlier that his house is destroyed by an inexplicable tornado (while he visits his niece on her birthday). Hearing the term “acts of God”, David almost loses it and this is what really pushed him over the edge. I wonder now how non-believers deal with insurance. Do not be misled—- this is not a crazy idea for a movie; in fact, I think it is quite clever. Consider some of the cases that get to court these days and you will see this case being no crazier than others. Everything looks as if research has been carefully done and from the little but I know about law, the depiction and portrayal of legal proceedings inside the courtroom (even down to the politics involved in a judge’s preliminary decision to hear a case) are perfect. It is this layer of realism that grounds a somewhat far-fetched plot, and keeps the film in the realm of satire rather than farce.
Writer-director, Stewart Schill very clearly did his research and even goes so far as to cite recent Supreme Court rulings in the screenplay. The film is humorous, comical, and trusts our intelligence. The film uses puns, innuendos, sarcasm, and various other rhetorical devices. Frank’s lines are predominantly funny quips that are subtle in their humor.
Frank posits the issue that “either God is merciless and cruel or doesn’t exist.” This certainly not a new question and goes back to St. Augustine who struggled to define and understand the nature of God just as he sought to discern the nature and origin of evil. Others see God as having a dualistic nature that is both good and bad.
David’s statement assigns God the responsibility for all bad circumstances (accidents, diseases, deaths) that have endured throughout time. Many feel it is dangerous to claiming God as the impetus behind calamities is a dangerous game to play. What about God allows bad things to happen to good people? In this we make God responsible for such occurrences regardless but to do so makes us deal with the idea that evil comes from God and that humans do not have to take responsibility. Indeed, we must understand and recognize that we have a hand in the happenings on earth. God cannot be used to evade moral accountability.
David Frank has become a curmudgeon who seems to have suffered more than most in his life, there are now only two things he really cares about. One is his niece, who happens to have leukemia. The other is his dog, who is then taken from him, along with his house, in a freak tornado. He is so embittered that he decides that God should pay for the damages and sues him in a court of law.
In order to have God answer for his actions, David gathers together representatives from a variety of different religions, including Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, and others. Several of them speak at length about their faith and what “the plaintiff” means to them, and each one is portrayed both accurately and reverently.
Henry Ian Cusick gives quite a performance as Frank. He begins as a character who is totally unlikeable but yet manages to get us on his side. He’s a good man, and a principled man, who’s just been wrecked by tragedy. Rather than becoming a cliché, Cusick makes has character believable and identifiable, tapping into the emotions that we all feel from time to time. All of us have suffered senseless tragedy and dared to ask why. Another interesting aspect here is that the film is as philosophical as it is funny.
Director Stewart Schill gives us an empowering perspective of atheists, a historically disenfranchised group: people who don’t believe in god. We see the hypocrisy, corruption, destruction, and abuse of power that has become part of the institution of religion. The film provides a rather empathetic viewpoint of religion through the group of religious leaders taking the stand for God in court. It underscores the good intentions of religious corporate entities, ideologically, while giving a critique.
Frank feels that he has nothing left to lose, so he decides to confront God in a court of law. There is a clever back-story about the judge who is determined to using the case to elevate his own fame and strengthen his chances of becoming a congressman. In the process, by adding to the satirical tone, it also sheds light on the absurdity of the blurred lines between church and state. Separation of church and state has been a constitutional pillar of the First Amendment, yet religion and government have become increasingly codependent in this country.
The idea of god is not always as mystical to many who believe as is commonly perceived. Many devout religious and spiritual people interpret god as a verb, not a noun; an action, like loving, caring, or helping others.
The film raises many questions, makes solid arguments for and against the effectiveness of religion and the existence of we get no life-changing answers. What we do get is “a humanistic perspective on the nuances and sensitivity of interpersonal connection in an innately cruel and harsh world”.