I’m perplexed when people say a movie needs to be blatantly evangelical in order to bring glory to God. Unless a character gets saved (i.e., prays the “sinner’s prayer”) and/or the gospel is explicitly defined, the movie is a waste—so they say. That vexes me. I’m terribly vexed. (Thankfully, these people weren’t in charge of creation. If they had been, every blade of grass would be stamped with John 3:16 or something.) That being said, I think the gospel was unnecessarily dumbed down in End of the Spear. Unlike a work of fiction, this story is based on true events. Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian were real missionaries who were brutally killed while attempting to bring the gospel to the Waodani. I knew that going into the movie, and yet for the first thirty minutes of the film I was confused about what these men were actually attempting to do. (That they were missionaries and not just secular humanitarians was not clearly defined until later in the film.) Were they just trying to bring food and supplies to the Waodani? They mentioned that the Waodani people were going to kill each other into extinction, but the solution—preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ—wasn’t clearly explained. It’s hard to tell a true-to-life story when you dance around the true heart of the story.

Unfortunately, the lack of heart was not the only problem with this film. The script was incredibly uneven and, consequently, hard to follow. Much of the cinematography was barely functional. The acting in the first third of the film left a lot to be desired. As a result, I wasn’t as affected by the story as I should have been. A better movie would have made me cry; as it was, I only got misty-eyed a few times.

A word on the violence. Even though there are plenty of killings in the film, not once do we actually see a spear hitting someone. We may see one flying through the air or being aimed at a person, but the camera always cuts to a different shot before we see the impact. I believe the filmmakers’ desire was to present the violence of the Waodani people without glorifying the violence. Kudos to the them for that. True, we do see some of the aftermath of the attack on the missionaries—and it isn’t pretty. It was still nothing compared to normal Hollywood violence, and yet the simplicity of the acts (crude spears impaling people without over-the-top sound effects) made the tragedy all the more real. Thus, the violence in the film avoids the extremes of being either fake or gratuitous.

Still, the movie’s weaknesses almost outweigh its strengths. The music was one of the few things that kept me interested (I’m listening to it right now, actually—surprised?), and even that was inappropriately placed at points.

It’s hard for a horse to stumble out of the gate, break two of its legs, and still hope to finish the race in good order. Maybe the best thing I can say about the film is that it does finish the race, and I was glad I had seen it once the end credits finished rolling. But with a tighter script, better acting, more creative cinematography, a more clear portrayal of the centrality of the gospel, and more effectively used musical score, End of the Spear could have been much better.

Artistic merit: 5/10
Personal marks: 6/10