ⓘ Leap of Faith (film)


ⓘ Leap of Faith (film)

Leap of Faith is a 1992 American comedy-drama film directed by Richard Pearce and starring Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson, and Lukas Haas. The film is about Jonas Nightengale, a Christian faith healer who uses his revival meetings to milk money out of the inhabitants of Rustwater, Kansas.


1. Plot

Faith healer Jonas Nightengale Steve Martin makes a living traveling across America holding tent revival meetings and conducting purported "miracles" while being helped by his friend and manager Jane Larson Debra Winger, and an entourage of fellow con artists.

One of their trucks breaks down in the fictional town of Rustwater, Kansas. Rustwater, with its 27 percent unemployment rate, is in desperate need of rain to save its crops. Learning they will be stuck in Rustwater for days waiting for replacement parts to come in for one of the many big trucks of their fleet, Jonas decides to hold revival meetings despite the towns small size in an effort to cut some of their losses while the truck is being repaired. Early on, Jonas meets Marva, a waitress in a local cafe but she rebuffs his persistent advances.

Local sheriff Will Braverman Liam Neeson is skeptical and tries to prevent his townspeople from being conned out of what little money they do have. First, he engages in some legal harassment, sending all of the city and county inspectors to examine his facilities. After seeing the excessive pageantry of the first show and the counting of money by the team on Jonas tour bus, Braverman decides to investigate Jonas past. He learns that Jonas claiming to have been born in a humble log cabin in the Appalachians is in fact Jack Newton, a native of New York City who lived a life of crime in his teen years including petty theft and drug possession. Braverman shares this information with the townspeople who have gathered for another tent revival. Jonas storms off the stage, soon returning to successfully spin Bravermans report, leaving the crowd more energized than ever, much to Bravermans exasperation.

Jonas also gives back the collections for the day, saying he could not take their money in good conscience knowing that they doubted him and that if his faith was strong God would send them a sign. He also has his crew secretly plant an additional $80 among the crowd, setting up the believers for a miracle the next day. The next morning, the huge crucifix forming the backdrop of the revival tent with Jesus eyes normally closed is found to somehow have his eyes opened. A shocked Jonas, in front of all the townspeople and numerous television cameras from the regions network affiliates, proclaims it a miracle which is amplified as townsfolk who had money planted on them reveal their unexplained fortunes.

Throughout all of this is a subplot involving Jane and Braverman, who find themselves falling for each other. She becomes enchanted by Bravermans simple farm life and his interest in butterflies. However, after Bravermans disclosure of Jonas past Jane breaks off their budding relationship. They soon, however, meet again and Jane confesses to Braverman that she is tired of manipulating people. He makes it clear he would like a permanent relationship with her if she will stay.

Meanwhile, Jonas cant understand why Marva wont date him. Marva points to her brother Boyd who walks with crutches following an auto accident in which also their parents died. Marva explains that doctors couldnt find anything physically wrong with him, so as a last resort she took him to a faith healer who subsequently blamed it on Boyds supposed lack of faith. Marva now detests faith healers, having had one blame her brother for his own psychosomatic disability.

Boyd comes to believe that Jonas can make him walk again. He goes to the revival and implores Jonas to heal him. Jonas finishes the show while pretending not to notice the boy, but is compelled to return to the stage after the crowd begins to chant "one more."

Jonas spins the expected failure to heal Boyd by blaming Braverman, who is present, saying that if a failure occurs, it will be due to Bravermans skepticism. Boyd walks to the open-eyed crucifix and touches the feet of Jesus Christ. He drops his crutches and begins to walk unassisted. The awed crowd sweeps the stage. After the show, an enraged Jonas rails to Jane that he was conned and that Boyd upstaged him. Jane doesnt believe it was a con. The production crew are thrilled with all the money that came in as a result of Boyd being healed and want Boyd to join the show. A clearly annoyed Jonas reluctantly agrees and stalks off the bus. Jane follows him out and they argue.

After the revival, Jonas enters the empty, darkened tent and mocks the crucifix and Christianity. Boyd walks in while Jonas is talking. Boyd thanks Jonas for healing him, but Jonas insists angrily that he did nothing. Boyd says it doesnt matter, that the job still got done. Jonas accuses Boyd of being a better con artist than he himself. Boyd wants to join Jonas on the road, telling him a lot of ways he can help out exist and promising to earn his keep. Jonas agrees to meet Boyd the following morning, implying Boyd can come. Then Boyds sister Marva arrives. She sends him out of the tent saying that people are looking for him. She thanks Jonas, who tells her that he will not be meeting her brother Boyd the next morning. He asks her to tell Boyd that "just because a person didnt show up doesnt mean that the person doesnt care about them." referencing a set up earlier in the movie where Jane defended Jonas by telling Braverman the story of a five-year-old Jonas waiting in vain for four days for his mother to return, for many years while living in an orphanage holding steadfast to the belief that one day she indeed would. The line is also found in the 1999 film adaptation of Graham Greenes The End of the Affair.

Jonas leaves the tent and sees the crowd that has gathered just outside it, many praying, some sleeping in groups, and others feeding the crowd that has gathered. He begins to understand that Boyds miracle, and the faith that enabled it, are real after all. He packs a bag and departs alone under the cover of darkness, leaving behind his entire road show and most of all of the rest of everything that he owns - including his silver-sequined jacket and an envelope for Jane containing his ring that she had long coveted - and hitches a ride on the nearby Interstate from which they had come to Rustwater at the start of the story. Braverman and Jane drive to Jonas motel room and find him gone.

Jonas hitches a ride with a truck driver bound for Pensacola, Florida. When asked by the driver if he is in some kind of trouble, Jonas replies "No sir, no sir. Probably for the first time in my life". As they continue to ride along, the drought, threatening the crop harvest that is the centerpiece of the towns economy, comes to a dramatic end in a miraculous downpour. Jonas laughs silently to himself as he realizes the truth, and the film ends as he rides off into the stormy evening, hanging out the truck window loudly thanking Jesus for the rain.


2. Cast

  • Phyllis Somerville as Dolores
  • Delores Hall as Ornella
  • Debra Winger as Jane Larson
  • Liam Neeson as Sheriff Will Braverman
  • M. C. Gainey as Tiny
  • Meat Loaf as Hoover
  • Lolita Davidovich as Marva
  • Troy Evans as Officer Lowell Dade
  • Lukas Haas as Boyd
  • La Chanze as Georgette
  • Albertina Walker as Lucille
  • Steve Martin as Jonas Nightengale
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman as Matt
  • Ricky Dillard as choirmaster

3. Production


The movie was filmed in Groom, Claude, and Tulia, Texas, though parts of the movie were filmed in Plainview, where the town water tower still has the fictional town mascot painted on the side. Martin was brought in as a replacement after Michael Keaton quit the production. The consultant for cons and frauds was Ricky Jay who was called in a 1993 article of The New Yorker as "perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive".


4. In other media


See also: Leap of Faith musical

The Center Theatre Group presented the musical at the Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, with Rob Ashford as director and choreographer. Performances began on September 11, 2010, with an official opening on October 3, 2010, running through October 24, 2010. Raul Esparza played the role of Jonas Nightengale and Brooke Shields played the role of Marva. The musical began previews on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on April 3, 2012, and opened on April 26, 2012 before closing after only 20 performances. Direction was by Christopher Ashley, choreography by Sergio Trujillo, a revised book by Warren Leight, with a cast featuring Raul Esparza as Jonas Nightengale, and Jessica Phillips as Marla.