Life, am I right? When my girlfriend recommended The Investigator (2013) to me, she was surprised that I had not heard of it. It is one that, given the circles in which I have moved and currently run, I probably should have been aware of its existence. If a certain person out there actually reads my reviews (and it would be cool if she does), please accept my apologies. My opening statement here was not meant to be a simple hook. Instead, it was meant to reference how amazing it is the way God works in our lives. Much of this unfolded before my eyes as I watched this film with my girlfriend on New Year’s Eve. Seeing the familiar faces and places brought back a flood of memories that only the nostalgia machine that is cinema can produce. Hopefully, this will be enough to convince you to continue reading.
The Investigator is the true-life story, with names changed, of former police officer James Buanacore (Wade Hunt Williams). While he commits himself to a life serving the community, his brother Paul Buanacore (David Sanborn) goes on to stardom. Unfortunately, the life on the streets of New York takes a turn when a drug bust goes wrong, leading to the accidental slaying of their target. The blame for the tragedy is placed on James, and he is forced to retire early. At the same time, his wife Stephanie (Nicole Abisinio) has a miscarriage, and they lose their baby. Between the death of an apparently innocent perpetrator and their unborn child, and losing the job he loves, James begins to question his Faith. More than that, he cannot understand why God would let something like this happen. Needing something to do, Paul gets James to accept a position as the new baseball coach at a nearby Christian school. James’ new duties also include teaching a course on criminal justice. The no nonsense James makes an impression immediately, particularly when he crosses one of the star football players, Dillon (Evan Brady). Dillon had been giving a hard time to the science teacher, Carl Genaro (Kevin White), for attempting to enforce the no cell phone policy. James takes the phone, but is undermined when the football coach, Coach Howard (Kibwe Dorsey), comes at the behest of the principal to reclaim it. Undeterred, James maintains his tough approach to the baseball team, treating all the players in the same manner no matter their skill level or time on the team. He also has to contend with a general lack of support from the school, which favors the football team as it is the sport that seems to bring in the most financial backing. This is all without mentioning the dearth of talent on the team. Still, James remains true to his work ethic, and he is able to convince his team to play hard. These results begin to win him supporters, including people like Dillon, who are drawn to the discipline James offers. In turn, the team begins winning. The success also translates into more respect in the classroom. This starts with teenagers wanting to hear about the salacious stories of being a police officer. Further, the closer he grows with the student body, the more he comes to see some of the school’s secrets. The biggest one is the fact that there seems to be students using drugs in order to cope with their school work, many of them being on the football team. The source of this illicit activity is traced to Coach Howard. When James confronts the football coach on the matter, Coach Howard claims it is being done in the name of the school’s pride. James brings this to the attention of the principal, but the school’s head does not want the publicity that comes with such a scandal and tells James to drop the matter. When James refuses to do so, leading to Coach Howard’s very public arrest, the principal informs James that he will not be asked back the following year. Nonetheless, despite some moments of doubts, James remains committed to providing a good education for his students, and leading the baseball team. With the team headed to the state championship, in the classroom the students suggest that he apply the investigation skills he learned as a cop in order to prove the existence of Jesus Christ. With the class acting as the jury, James brings in several experts and has his students examine the source material, namely the Bible. The further he goes, the more wrapped up in the process he becomes. It has a profound effect on himself and the students. The miracle nearly spills over into the baseball team winning the state championship, but it comes anyway with James kneeling with the rest of the team in prayer after the game.
As The Investigator closes, we learn what becomes of the main characters in the film. Many of James’ students go on to do great things for the Faith. As for the main one, we learn that we had been watching the story of Officer Richard Romano, the brother of comedian and actor Ray Romano, best known for the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. His investigation has been turned into a series that allows individuals to do basically what he did in the movie, deciding for yourself whether or not Jesus existed. I enjoyed the methodical process James goes through, using the Bible and testimonies of witnesses in order to build the case for Jesus. At the same time, much of this is circumstantial evidence. Modern court cases have been decided by less. Still, circumstantial evidence, especially when it comes to matters of Faith, is unlikely to truly convert hearts and minds. After all, the main bit of such evidence, Scripture, has been with us for thousands of years, and each passing age unfortunately has seen the number of Christians of all walks dwindle, proportionally speaking. At the heart is the issue with telling people God exists. It is a hard concept to wrap your mind around. Seldom do we have trumpeting angels heralding God’s graces, or witness the miraculous as described in the Bible. Instead, we mechanically continue to consume streaming services in a dull loop distracting us from the message that God is screaming at us on a daily basis: that He is real and that He wants us to be in a relationship with Him. Ultimately, no matter how much you read the Bible or ask experts to talk about the forensic details of the case for Christ, it is not going to matter much without a relationship with Him. The point of the film is to show how one person found their way back to such a relationship.
As I mentioned at the outset of this review of The Investigator, the film is full of familiar faces of and places. Fun fact: the church in the early scenes of the movie is the same one in which I was Confirmed. Anyway, it is a familiarity that makes for a comfortable movie experience, like saying hello to old friends. What an apt metaphor, too, for our relationship with God. It is goal for our Faith lives to which we should all be striving, even those who have been at it for a long time. It is a goal that should also be attempted even in the most difficult of times.