REVIEW | Ejiofor gives a powerful performance in ‘Come Sunday’

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Chiwetel Ejiofor is Carlton Pearson.

There is one great thing that stresses Bishop Carlton Pearson about his faith: hell. As a famous and highly influential Pentecostal televangelist, Pearson takes his faith seriously. So seriously that not only is he obsessively proselytizing, but he is also heavily burdened by the idea that non-Christians, or Christians living in sin, will go to hell and suffer eternal punishment.

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“Come Sunday,” a Netflix original movie, tells the interesting real story of how Bishop Pearson revised his teachings, the catalyst of which is his Uncle Quincy’s (Danny Glover) death. He can no longer fathom the concept of eternal damnation, that a loving God would allow anyone to burn in hell without end. So he then introduces a new teaching: hell does not exist.

Academy-Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) plays the conflicted Pearson. This is perhaps the British actor’s most outstanding performance in his entire career. He disappears in his role that what you see onscreen is a true-blue evangelist, not an actor.

Ejiofor deeply imbibes Pearson’s dilemma. You can feel in your bones his severe case of messiah complex, his insurmountable guilt that he’s unable to save Uncle Quincy from the fiery pits of hell, as well as everyone who has not accepted or known Jesus Christ. Ejiofor’s soulful performance earns your sympathy towards Pearson’s spiritual turmoil.

However, Marcus Hinchey’s screenplay and Joshua Marston’s direction feel tepid and safe. For Pearson’s devastating and dramatic deviation from a centuries-old belief, you fail to experience the drama of the church’s crisis that their leader has become a heretic. There are tiny sparks of scriptural debate, but the film never involves you in the intimate, dynamic relationship between the flock and the shepherd.

With its sterile and cautious treatment, the movie fails to provoke indignation, or even admiration for Pearson’s strong conviction on his radical teaching of universal reconciliation that caused followers to walk out of his megachurch.

“Come Sunday” does not match Pearson’s passionate “re-evaluation” of the Scripture. With a guarded and too careful storytelling, fearful of offending both the real-life Pearson and the faithful members of the Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center, this movie is only worth watching for Ejiofor’s first-rate performance.

2.5 out of 5 stars
Still streaming on Netflix (premiered April 13, 2018)

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