Film Review: The Cross

Heartfelt but pedestrian, so to speak, documentary of an evangelist who for decades carried a 12-foot wooden cross around the globe to spread the gospel.

It's impossible not to respect Arthur Blessitt, who from Christmas Day 1969 to June 7, 2008, carried a 12-foot-tall, 45-pound, self-constructed wooden cross with a wheel on one end through 315 nations, island groups and territories in order to spread the gospel of Jesus. According to The Guinness Book of Records, the estimated 38,000 miles he traversed earned him the honor of the world's longest walk. He's gone into active combat zones, Antarctica and, most impressively, Panama's Darién Gap, a 54-mile concentration of jungle so dense that the otherwise unbroken Pan-American Highway, stretching from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego, failed to penetrate it. Only a handful of adventurers have ever navigated the Gap—none of them alone, on foot, and carrying a heavy cross, although the documentary errs when it claims no one had ever made it through alive before Blessitt did in 1979.

The Darién Gap story alone would have made a fascinating Fitzcarraldo-like documentary about a zealot touched equally by madness and grace. Unfortunately, director Matthew Crouch, son of Trinity Broadcasting Network founders Paul and Jan Crouch, and the CEO of the Christian-based production company Gener8Xion Entertainment (The Omega Code), doesn't bring a journalistic ethic to the project. Blessitt's amazing story jumps from place to place and time frame to time frame with little sense of progression. Somehow during those 38,000 miles, Blessitt found time to marry twice and have seven children—information gleaned not through the documentary but research to write this review. That digging also offers a strikingly different recollection by Blessitt about avoiding armed attackers in Nicaragua in 1978. We don't want to be mean, but his original story didn't involve direct intervention by God in a flash of blue light, as it does in the documentary.

That bit of dramatic license aside, it seems clear from the film snippets and news reports that Blessitt—and you want to talk about names being destiny?—did endure extraordinary, almost impossible-to-fathom hardship and deprivation to spread the word of God as he saw it. The documentary shows him as unfailingly polite, loving, nonconfrontational and unwavering in his faith. When he tells a story about being turned away by missionaries at a compound in West Africa, only to be welcomed into the home of an atheist couple, we see that Blessitt's expansive heart is in the right place. If that place also happens to be in a shapeless and repetitive documentary filled with Darién Gaps of its own, well, as they say, God moves in mysterious ways.