'End of the Spear' Opens in Theaters Nationwide

“End of the Spear” will be released in some 1,200 theaters nationwide today.

The movie, based on the book End of the Spear by Steve Saint, chronicles the story of five American missionaries who were speared to death by the Waodani tribe of the east rainforest of Ecuador in January 1956. The film focuses on the tribe’s change of heart and the faith and forgiveness of the missionaries and their families rather than the deaths.

Christian critics and leaders have reacted to the film with mixed reviews, with some questioning whether the Gospel message is strong enough in the movie and others questioning why the leading roles went to a practicing homosexual.

“The authentic and passionate Christ-centered motive of the missionaries is lacking, rendering an incomplete portrayal,” wrote Rusty Benson in his review of the movie in Agapepress on Jan. 18. “In contrast, Elliot's book (the wife of one of the slain missionaries who lived on with the Waodani tribe) clearly documents the Gospel zeal that drove the mission endeavor.”

Steve Saint, the son of the missionary pilot Nate Saint, has responded to this concern by saying the movie was trying to reach out to the non-Christians and not only to the Christian audience.

“The theater is not a good venue for doing that (sermonizing),” Saint asserted to Agapepress.

"My biggest fear," he said, "was that this would end up being Christians telling a Christian story to non-Christians that non-Christians wouldn't go and listen to."

In an interview with “Hollywood Jesus,” Jim Hanon, the movie’s writer-director, said that rather than sermonizing, the film sought to deliver the Gospel message through the character’s actions.

"In a motion picture, what characters say doesn't necessarily make you believe them. The audience only knows the truth about a character from the choices the character makes while under extreme pressure," he observed.

Hanon noted that the phrase “actions speak louder than words” is at work in the End of the Spear.

"I think the audience is smart," he said. "I think the audience can perceive the theology behind the story – and what's more, they can experience it emotionally rather than just intellectually. For many, this will cause them to rethink what they hold to be true; for others, this will affirm what they already know to be true."

The movie has been endorsed by several Christian evangelical and pro-family leaders, including Jerry Falwell, James Robison, Kay Arthur, and Dennis Rainey.

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said in a written press statement released on Jan. 18 at the pre-screening in Times Square, N.Y., that "I've never been so touched by a movie before in my life. It took me an hour to recover from End of the Spear.”

Many Christians, however, have expressed their disappointment in the movie – or, more specifically, in the casting of actors.

Ahead of the film’s opening in theaters nationwide, heated debates escalated over why the leading roles of Nate Saint and son, Steve Saint, went to Chad Allen, a homosexual "activist."

“What were they thinking?” asked Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in a column published before the movie’s release. Mohler appeared with Allen on Larry King Live Tuesday night for the show’s “Debate Over Gay Marriage” segment.

Despite Filmmaker Mart Green’s contention that Allen was the best man for the part, Mohler noted, “Every Tribe Entertainment has chosen an actor – perhaps even the actor – least likely to be able to make us forget him and see Nate Saint.”

“Chad Allen's activism is what many audience members will see, not Nate and Steve Saint,” he said.

Other Christian leaders have also chimed in on the debate, which seems to be drawing shadows over the now-highly contested film.