Today’s TV viewers know Corbin Bernsen as the main character’s dad on Psych; older folks remember him as a sleazy lawyer on L. A. Law back in the 1980s. But I recently caught up with a low-budget indie movie Bernsen wrote, produced, directed, and starred in last year, and I found it quite moving. Rust is the story of a minister who loses his faith and moves back to the small town he grew up in, only to become involved in trying to unravel the mystery of a house fire that took the lives of a local family: A mentally disabled local man claims to have set the fire, but the minister has doubts about his story and starts investigating. What he uncovers sends him back on the trail of the deeper mystery he started out with: How can a benevolent God exist, and yet sometimes remain silent when we feel most in need of hearing His voice?
The film appears to be a heartfelt attempt on Bernsen’s part to grapple with the basic questions of religious faith. He has mentioned in an interview that he doesn’t want the film to be pigeonholed as a “Christian movie,” and I sympathize completely: Too often the phrase “Christian movie” is used to refer to a film of interest only to people who are already committed to the particular Christian religion. This film is written by a Christian and features Christian characters, but its story and the issues it raises are universal.
The shoestring-budget filmmaking here is far from seamless, indeed there are instances of downright clunkiness in the script and the performances. (I understand that many of the characters in the film are played by non-actors — but that more often than not works to the film’s benefit, making it look and sound more authentic.) There are parts of this movie that, if the director had asked my advice, I would have advised him to change. (Still, I shudder to think what would have happened if this movie had been taken up by a major studio: A team of five screenwriters, ranging in age from 21 to 23, would have processed it into the total garbage that is the daily product of the Great Velveeta Factory.) The movie has problems, but it works, and sustains interest throughout, because it has a combination of frankness and basic talent at its core.