The WagerReviewed by Phillip Tomasso III
"...powerful and impacting... from beginning to end The Wager built on one tense moment after another."
Growing up as a teenager in the mid-eighties, my life revolved around rock-n-roll. I swore I’d always be faithful to heavy metal. I swore nothing would ever come between me and the great rock music of my time. Then I met a girl. Funny how just hearing that five-word sentence, you know someone’s life is about to be turned upside down. And this time was no different. She, get this, was a country music fan. I’d always heard they existed---somewhere, but had never met one in real life. Before I fully understood what was happening, she’d manage to change the radio station in the car to the only country station broadcasting in our town. Know what happened? One day, when she wasn’t even in the car with me, I caught myself listening to that country station—and actually singing along. This was some time in, maybe 1989. One of the first country concerts she took me to was Trisha Yearwood, Alan Jackson, and headlining that night was the one and only, Randy Travis . . . and I have been a country music fan ever since. Yep. I admit it.
But I know what you’re thinking, what in the world does this have to do with a movie review for The Wager? Well, in all honesty, absolutely nothing, other than the leading star in the film is none other than my favorite country singer, Randy Travis.
The movie, based on the novel by best selling author Bill Myers, of whom I am also a fan, tells the story of actor Michael T. Steele (Randy Travis). Known for instilling some family values into the roles he plays on the big screen, Steele is thrilled to learn that he’s been nominated for an Academy Award.
Plagued by a series of dreams, Steele has the distinct feeling that God and Satan are up to something. God continually reminds Steele of the Sermon on the Mount, which forces Steele to evaluate where he is in life and the things that still need to be done. While Satan tempts Steele with fame and power and lust, forcing Steele to see endless possibilities of pleasure yet in front of him. Eventually, either God or Satan will win. Who wins can only be determined by Steele.
Although being up for an Academy Award should have been one of the happiest times in his life, when his wife, Tanya (Nancy Valen) files for divorce, Steele finds that the high he should have felt is almost cleanly erased. To make matters worse, when Cassandra (Candace Cameron Bure), the co-star from his latest film, shows up at his house hoping to help him forget his troubles, Steele’s life spirals completely out of control. The media—once rooting for him to win the Award—turn on him. The tabloids, like sharp teeth, begin to tear and gnash away at his career, his chance at winning the award, and slowly work at eating away his soul.
(If you have ever seen cartoons where someone has to make a choice and a tiny angel pops up on one shoulder and a little devil on the other, both whispering into the ear of the contemplator, then you will understand Steele’s dilemma.) Aside from one bright spot left in his life, Steele’s sister, Annie (Nancy Stafford), his only other source for advice comes from his agent (Jude Cicollola) who has his an agenda of his own—success and riches.
Although maybe more personal than necessary, I was able to relate to this movie on many different levels. For starters, I am in the middle of a divorce—one I did not want. My emotional connection to Steele was that much more enhanced. I’d wager that most, if not every person, who sees this film has had their life affected in some way, shape or form by a divorce. Additionally, I am a writer, a novelist, and sometimes I put my writing goals ahead of everything else. It’s selfish. I know it. But I still do it. It takes a lot at times to remember that life is not about me. So like Steele, who’s focus becomes the Academy Award, he struggles to put life into true perspective.
The Wager is powerful and impacting. I especially enjoyed Cicollola’s performance. He portrayed what I’ll bet most people picture when they think of a Hollywood agent. And though I’ve seen Randy Travis appear in a number of TV shows, and as co-stars in a few films, I thoroughly appreciated his overall performance in a lead role. His character showed genuine reflection, thoughtfulness, anger . . . the whole gamut of emotions.
From beginning to end, The Wager built on one tense moment after another. I oftentimes found my hands rolled into fists, and caught myself holding my breath. The author of the story, Bill Myers, is known for this—suspense. Seeing his novel turned into such an outstanding film was hopefully satisfying for him. I know I was excited to learn, and then watch his novel come to life.
Although The Wager is clearly a Christian film, with a prominent Biblical core, I believe it may draw interest from the secular world. And should. When you look at where Hollywood films are headed, it doesn’t take a pastor to realize we actually need more Michael T. Steele’s in these movies . . . and behind the scenes.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Interested in hosting the movie at your church? Visit the Outreach Cinema website to find out all the details.
National Church Release Date:
December 31, 2007 / Action & Adventure
Public DVD Release: Spring 2008
Blazing Sun Productions
Director: Judson Pearce Morgan
Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment
Watch the trailer:
Phillips grew up with a reading disability. He did everything
possible not to read. It wasn’t until he was in seventh grade that he finally
read a book cover to cover. Now a voracious reader and prolific writer, Phillips
uses his accomplishments as a motivational backdrop for speaking at school assemblies. Born
and raised in Rochester, New York, Phillips has worked as a freelance journalist
and currently works full time as an employment law paralegal. When
he isn’t writing, Phillips plays guitar, is active at his church, coaches
his children’s Little League teams, co-leads Ink Spots and Coffee Grounds—a
creative writing group, and plots his next story. The Molech Prophecy is
his first published Christian novel. Visit
him online at his Shoutlife
page & Myspace