Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mystery Movie Month: Rust

Rust (2010)
Does a mystery need a murder? Sadly, it is what you expect from a mystery film. (Of course, I wrote a series of mystery books for kids without a single fatality. Perhaps you know the Bill the Warthog series, in which a talking pig detective solves crimes?) Those books have kid crimes -- petty theft, minor cons, truancy -- but no homicide. In adult mystery films, we expect someone will be offed and someone else will try to find out who done it.
By that definition, Rust is certainly a mystery film. A whole family is killed, and a man is accused of being responsible and is locked away -- but maybe it’s the wrong guy. Sounds like a murder mystery film, but slight differences in tone make Rust feel like different from a traditional mystery. One thing that changes the tone is the fact that the fire that killed the family doesn’t seem to have been set to cause their deaths. Travis, the small town’s eccentric, is thought to have set the fire just because he was nutty. Intentionality is important for a murder mystery: it makes the difference between murder and manslaughter.

In addition, it’s not a police officer or detective who wants to solve the mystery. It’s a former pastor who’s also trying to solve another mystery: the mystery of evil and human suffering. Somehow, James Moore believes all this is tied together.
James Moore is played by Corbin Bernsen, who also wrote and directed the film. Yes, that Corbin Bernsen, from the TV shows L.A. Law and Psych and the Major League trilogy of films. His character, Moore, pastored in his small hometown, Kipling, but he left his town and left the ministry.

We see Moore arguing with a statue of Jesus on the cross saying, “This has to be a two way street, if you won’t answer the simplest questions...I have no choice but to walk away. I’ve given up everything for you. How can I fix that? I love you and honor you and respect you as much as the day I first followed you. I’m sorry, forgive me.”

The fire brought Moore back to the small town of Kipling. His friend, Travis, was placed in a psychiatric institution after the fire. When Moore visits him, Travis insists he set the fire, but Moore can’t believe it of his old friend.

Travis asks if Moore left the ministry because he “ran out of Jesus juice.” Moore seems to go along with that, but then sets off to find out what really happened the night of the fire.

Everyone else in town also seems to wonder why Moore left the ministry. The sheriff, Dwayne, asks, “Did you wake up and say, ‘sorry Lord, this dance is over’?” Moore agrees it was something like that.

Moore’s father says, “Son, every seed you’ve planted, everything you’ve ever put in the ground, including your mother, hasn’t yielded a single thing. And that’s not my fault, it’s not your mother’s fault, and it certainly isn’t God’s fault. My question for you is simple: do you ever plan on finishing anything?”

The only encouragement that Moore seems to get is from on old preacher in town. Pastor Barrow (John Hutchinson) who meets Moore in “the old church” in town. There is a new church as well, but the old one just seems to sit there. Moore tells Barrow he left the ministry because “it just doesn’t make sense.”

Barrow asks, “What is it that doesn’t make sense?”

Moore starts with “this thing with Travis,” but then goes on to talk about war and injustice and suffering and apostasy… And on and on. With all due respect to the former reverend, you really should figure out a little earlier in ministry that the world is a messed up place.

Pastor Barrow tries to help by telling a long, convoluted story that really makes no sense. And it doesn’t seem to help Moore at all.

What helps Moore is solving the mystery of the fire. To the great consternation of local law enforcement, Moore starts to interview people about the night of the fire. He learns that the family was quite religious and the father was very protective of his teenage daughter. He also learns that one of the local teens (a teen who smoke and drinks) was interested in the daughter.

Moore further investigates by bicycling on the route that Travis would have had to take the night of the fire, and discovers he couldn’t possibly have started the fire because he didn’t have time to make the trip. Eventually, Moore solves the mystery.

I’m going to spoil the mystery right now, so if you don’t want read the solution, quit reading right now. By reading on, you’re giving your consent to have the ending spoiled.

It turns out, the fire was started by one of the teens. Actually a group of about a dozen teen was present, but Travis took the rap so these poor young kids wouldn’t have to have their futures disrupted by taking responsibility for the death of a father, mother, and their three kids. Turns out, though, Travis wasn’t really helping. One of the kids, racked by guilt, commits suicide, and yet the rest of the kids are willing to let an innocent man suffer for their crime.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard pastors make an argument for the Resurrection by saying that if the disciples knew Jesus was still dead, someone would have eventually spilled the beans instead of insisting that He was alive. This film seems to say that in a group of a dozen teens, none of them would come forward with the truth about the tragic death of a family.

But solving the crime is enough to get Moore back in ministry, especially because he can use a poem from the dead father for a sermon illustration. The father had a poem in his Bible (which survived the fire) about community and nature and God and stuff, and Moore shares this poem in his sermon, and all is swell.

The world is just as messed up as it was before, but his friend Travis is out of the asylum, so everything is okay between Moore and God again. I guess solving a mystery does that. If I was judging Pastor James Moore as detective, that would be one thing. But Moore as a pastor gets just Two (out of four) Steeples.

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