Not Quite Prime Time
What are the odds that I’d find myself writing reviews for two—count ’em, two—Tulsa-based independent films on the same day? Whatever the odds, I beat them.
Unlike its incendiary, do-it-yourself-distribution, self-promoted counterpart Jesus Fish, Treasure Blind tries to go the Flywheel route. Written and directed by character actor Brian Shoop (whom, like me, you may recognize from Infamous or The Rookie), the film was financed and produced by Shoop’s Tulsa church after he (reportedly) mistook a pastor’s joke for encouragement.
Like the church-brewed Sherwood Pictures projects Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof, Treasure Blind mixes the efforts of a variety of professionals and unpaid amateurs, but with less glowing results.
In the lead role, Shoop portrays an aging, lonely Tulsa cabbie whose hobby is treasure hunting. While thrift-shopping one day, he runs across a Civil War-era treasure map. From there, Shoop’s screenplay interweaves the contemporary tale of cabbie Cliff, his estranged and gambling-debt-laden son Jack, and Henry—the blind grandson Cliff never knew he had—with the story of a treasure (metaphorically) hidden in the Oklahoma countryside by a trio of Confederate soldiers a century and a half earlier. Ladle on a fair amount of subterfuge, and threats from various nefarious types, and Shoop’s got the bare bones of a fairly engaging yarn about reconciliation and worth.
But the bones are not fleshed out in a very appealing fashion. One strength of Facing the Giants and Fireproof, at least, was that Sherwood allocated its budget in the right areas: cinematography, sound, editing, and soundtrack. It helped, of course, that Sherwood and producing partner Provident got Sony to cough up some distribution cash to sweeten those technical areas a bit (as Sony also did with the “Director’s Cut” of Flywheel on DVD); but what did Cloud Ten do to help Newsong Films and Tulsa Bible Church with this project—other than sign up for basic distribution? I’ve never been much impressed with the technical aspects of Cloud Ten’s films (such as the Left Behind series and The Genius Club), but Treasure Blind isn’t even up to their usual standard. Not only is Cloud Ten not improving, they appear to be regressing.
Recruiting one of Tulsa Bible Church’s members as Directory of Photography, Shoop appears not to have learned much about cinematography from his time on set as an actor. Far too many of the film’s interior scenes—particularly a key confrontation with a loan-shark’s goons—are poorly lit, or shot with purely ambient light. Coupled with the shaky camera work—and a generically soporific synth soundtrack—the footage is often not much better than run-of-the-mill home movies.
Still, there are some decent performances here, particularly from Joseph Shoop and Denis Pimm—and Shoop gamely coaches young blind actor Daniel Brookshire through a fairly demanding debut performance as Henry. And if you insist that your safe-for-the-whole-family entertainment include hymn-singing cherubs and a genuine come-to-Jesus moment, there’s enough here that you won’t feel entirely hornswoggled.
If you’re looking for something like that Sherwood magic, though, I doubt you’ll be thrilled that you dug up this Treasure. I’ve no doubt that God has wrought some amazing things in the lives of those involved with this project; but based on my own experience two decades ago as a first-time director, my guess is that better—and possibly different—things are in store down the road for Shoop and company.
One thing is for sure: completing even a weak film is a much harder thing than writing a decent review, and Shoop has accomplished something that only a handful of church-drama leaders could have.
Treasure Blind is unrated, but would probably earn a PG from the MPAA for scenes of peril and thematic material. If your kids can handle Bambi, though, I’m sure they can handle this.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional copy of Treasure Blind.