It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The caravan comes tooling down the highway, a couple of custom buses and big semis, carrying salvation to the needy. It's a high-tech revival show, starring Jonas Nightengale, faith healer and preacher, who can pick a stranger at random out of his audience, and tell him the most amazing things about himself. And then he takes up a collection. That's the most important part of the show.
"Leap of Faith" is the first movie to reveal the actual methods used by some revivalists and faith healers to defraud their unsuspecting congregations. Earlier movies, from features like "Elmer Gantry" and "Uforia" to the documentary "Marjoe," have had an equally jaundiced view of barnstorming evangelists, but this is the first expose of the high-tech age, showing how electronics and computers are used to fabricate miracles on demand.
Steve Martin stars, as a preacher who has conned so many people in so many ways that he hardly knows when he's conning himself. As the movie opens, one of the trucks breaks down with engine trouble, and they pull off into a Southwestern backwater to throw a few unscheduled shows until replacement parts arrive. It seems like an ordinary enough town. He doesn't realize it's his personal crossroads.
The role is an unusual one for Martin, who plays it straight (this is not a comedy) and yet satirizes the character at the same time. Or is it satire? I've seen faith healers on TV as bizarre as Nightengale, with his prancing, posturing delivery, his show-biz antics, his glittering suits, his backup gospel choir. What I haven't seen, although I've read about it in court cases, is the way faith healers use computerized databases, informers and overheard conversations to gather miraculous insights into the innocents in their congregations.