Gun and a Hotel Bible is one of the only faith-based films I’ve seen that dares present the secular sector not as flawed heathens but as souls who do indeed make valid points. Take it from someone who sat through all three God’s Not Dead films as well as a plethora of other Pure Flix offerings. This is uncharted territory for the genre.
Gun and a Hotel Bible is mostly free from the genre’s pedantic tendency to proselytize to its own choir. Based on an award-winning stage-play, it’s a talky two-hander co-directed by the same man who brought us Scooby-Doo and The Smurfs. Color me as shocked as anyone. Raja Gosnell works with young director Alicia Joy LeBlanc in his most stripped-down production yet. Not accompanied by an assortment of CGI creatures and explosive fountains of special effects wizardry, Gosnell directs his son and co-star who spend most of the 58-minute runtime in a hotel room.
The film opens with Pete (Bradley Gosnell) monologuing about the night he met his true love, Cindy (Mia Marcon). It was approaching scary hours at a bar when Cindy, whom Pete describes as the life of the party, approached him for a final drink. It was love, so he thought. The story turns dark when their relationship stalls and Cindy starts having an affair.
Cut to a seedy Chicago hotel room at the fictitious Hotel Roselyn. Pete enters his room disheveled, brandishing a firearm. A man dressed in a slick suit sits patiently by the nightstand, finally able to speak to Pete as soon as he flips open the Bible. The man reveals himself to be “Gid” (Daniel Floren), a personification of scripture. It doesn’t take Gid very long to realize Pete is plotting to commit a regrettable act of violence.
The conversation gets combative early, with Gid judging Pete for the action he’s come here to take. Pete has a complicated relationship with God that is revealed later in the film. Not only did he see the trauma religion bestowed on his family, he can’t grasp a moral deity who would punish the universe for a person eating an apple in a garden in attempt to discover God’s creation — much less incite a plague and flood the entire planet. You get the sense Gid has heard it all before, and he has answers to Pete’s many indictments.
Confined to a sole location, Gosnell and LeBlanc create intensity through dialog by way of camera pans both gentle and swift. It saves the film from being too static. Gosnell and Floren’s performances teeter-totter between convincing and thespian. The fault isn’t so much in the writing as it’s in the closeups on actors clearly experienced in the world of theatrical stage-acting. Playing to the camera is far different than playing to the cheap-seats. The only recurring enemy besides Pete’s propensity to commit a sinful act is the uneven acting.
But Gun and a Hotel Bible could prove to be the turning point for Raja Gosnell. After 40+ years in film, this is his first work that isn’t family friendly. It’s far more ambiguous territory than he’s ever treaded, right down to an interpretive ending. Hearing him speak in interviews, it appears working on this project opened his heart and mind to a different audience, not to mention a more economical way to shoot films. A Hollywood veteran and a made-man financially, Gosnell should confidently pursue this direction. It’s one for which I’ve been hoping.
NOTE: Gun and a Hotel Bible is available to rent on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and multiple other platforms for a couple dollars.
Starring: Bradley Gosnell, Daniel Floren, and Mia Marcon. Directed by: Raja Gosnell and Alicia Joy LeBlanc.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality in North Central Illinois. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!