Hollywood actor Michael Rodrick says he used his childhood experience speaking in tongues at a charismatic church to help prepare him for scenes as the serial killer, John Lee, in “The River Murders,” a movie that was released in 2011.
Hollywood actor Michael Rodrick says he used his childhood experience speaking in tongues at a charismatic church to help prepare him for scenes as the serial killer, John Lee, in “The River Murders,” a movie that was released in 2011. Ray Liota stars in the movie as Jack Verdon, a homicide detective who investigates a series of murders. Other actors include Ving Rhames, Gisele Fraga, Melora Walters and Christian Slater, who plays a caustic FBI investigator. The movie was produced by Rich Cowan, Richard Salvatore, Daniel Toll and Steve Anderson.
Anderson wrote the script for the movie and Cowan directed. Anderson’s short film, "Hearts of Stone," was the 1987 runner-up for an Academy Award and played at the Sundance Film Festival. He followed that by working with Oliver Stone on “South Central,” a gritty film about gangs in South Central Los Angeles. The film follows a few black men as they become involved in neighborhood gangs, crime, drugs, prison and shattered family life.
In “The River Murders,” detective Liota becomes the prime suspect when the FBI discovers that he has close personal ties to all the female murder victims. The plot follows Rodrick in his role as serial killer preying on women, all of whom have known Liota. In a youtube featurette, Cowan says Rodrick was one of 40 men who were called back to read with Liota.
Cowan and Anderson are interviewed about the decision to cast Rodrick in the role. Cowan says they went through about 600 actors before deciding on Rodrick. “From the moment he came in and read with Ray, we were convinced (Rodrick) was the guy,” Cowan said.
Liota does a credible job in his role as a detective, but there are aspects of the movie treatment that are simply not credible. During the investigation, Liota’s character reveals that he has had at least 100 sex partners, including another female detective that he is working with. He was married at the time of the affair with the detective, who is fairly attractive. The investigation creates turmoil at home with his wife, which is understandable. And it’s certainly not unusual to see movies about serial killers.
It seems to be a favorite both on TV and the big screen. What is not believable about the movie is that Liota’s character has had 100 lovers, or had sex with at least 100 women. It’s not that it’s not impossible for any one person. It’s that in real life, for a detective with the looks of Liota, it does not seem possible. Do women fall all over unknown men who are detectives who hang out at bars - those who look like Liota - a detective who seems sincere and genuinely concerned about his partner and others? No. It’s not that A-list actors can’t have sex with movie star groupies who fall all over them.
It’s that Liota is not playing an A-list actor. He is playing an ordinary police detective.
Rodrick says he studied documentaries on psychopaths and serial killers to help him with the role. “You start to see a pattern, that they are master manipulators,” he said. Rodick plays the seemingly sincere, but manipulative and deadly killer well. “He (God) has a plan for you,” Rodrick says in one scene before he kills one of the women. Rodrick reveals he (or his family) visited a few churches growing up in New Jersey where the charismatic churches “spoke in tongues.” “I was very affected by that as a teenager,” Rodrick says. He asked the director if he could use some of his “speaking in tongues” experiences or characterizations on the set to psych himself into his serial killer role. Rodrick is seen psyching himself for the scene with “speaking in tongue” jibberish. He sits on top of his naked female victim with her hands tied to the bedpost. “My brothers and my sisters all have died the sins of the father,” he says in a menacing voice. She answers in moans, her mouth stuffed with a rag. Near the end of filming Cowan asks Rodrick to record his voice for a short end of movie narration: “Remember me. My soul will live forever in your sinner’s heart. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the light. I am the resurrection.”
For Christians, the scene may be disturbing since Rodick is paraphrasing John 14:6, a New Testament passage in the Bible: Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is a strange element in the movie: a serial killer who quotes parts of the Bible as part of his demented character. Did Anderson do research on serial killers and find that good number of them were demented Christians who quoted scripture? Or is this an attack on the Bible and Christianity by the writer? It may be a result of the Hollywood climate toward labeling Christians as extremists.
Having worked with Oliver Stone, Anderson may be someone whose intent is to either provoke or marginalize Christians. Rodrick says he used documentaries and youtube to research serial killers.
Were a majority of them Bible quoting Christians? It's doubtful. The concept should have given at least some of the actors reason think twice about accepting the roles. Why would Liota give credibility to such a role and not think about the implications? Hollywood actors can be sympathetic toward any one role they are playing, essentially disguising any truly held beliefs so that they can keep working. They can also express approval of a film that they believe in. Some have worked on Christian films where the Christian theme is obvious. Joseph Fiennes was the main actor in a 2003 film on the life of Martin Luther. Is he known in Hollywood as a practicing Lutheran or a Christian? In a tough moral climate like Hollywood, acting in a movie often means getting paid for acting in the movie and nothing more. It also may be that despite recent success for Christian producers and directors, Christians are still an easy target in Hollywood because either they don’t complain or they are considered the enemy for their political or moral stance.
© 2011 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as on topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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