***Some Minor Spoilers Follow***
Chris Carter’s The X-Files: I Want to Believe is one of the most personal American films of the decade; a flawed but ambitious work that is surprisingly poignant and haunting in several unexpected ways. It is also a film that dares to not be what many long time fans of the show will want or expect. I Want to Believe is clearly the film Chris Carter wanted to make, a cold and somber work that bravely risks alienating fans of the show who were wanting another fun creature filled ride into the unknown.
Coming over five years after the series finale of The X-Files, I Want to Believe is remarkably chilly production that finds its iconic lead characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in an iced over snowy winter investigating the disappearance of a missing FBI agent. Carter’s film trades in the show’s celebrated paranormal aspects for a subtle and very human mystery centering on ideas of stem cell research and black-market organ donations. The film isn’t entirely missing elements of the supernatural as there is a visionary psychic helping on the case, but Carter is more interested here in the idea of faith and the nature of science’s place in spiritual issues rather than things that just go bump in the night.
Considering the film is a relatively low budget affair, I Want to Believe is an exceptionally striking looking production thanks to cinematographer Bill Roe, a man who shot dozens upon dozens of the original show throughout the later seasons. The snow and ice covered plains are shot beautifully by Roe and Carter handles filming the landscapes equally well, bringing an intelligent sense of how to fill his often wide-open frames in nearly every shot of the film. Direction wise, I Want To Believe is an obviously well-thought and lovingly compiled film and visually it is nothing short of exceptional. The legendary main theme by Mark Snow is also used to great effect for the most part in the film and his new score as whole works exceedingly well. Kudos to both Carter and Snow though for knowing when to supply the film with just the right amount of silence though, a smart move that allows the score to become even more effective than perhaps it would have been.
Cast wise, Duchovny and Anderson both shine in the roles they both made so famous. Duchovny is especially moving in essaying the transition from the bearded and frozen over Mulder at the beginning of the film to the rejuvenated and believing figure at the end. It’s probably the swan song to one of the great characters of the past couple of decades and Duchovny gives a beautifully wearied and poetic performance that ranks along with the best work he has ever done. The always reliable Anderson is just as good, especially in a moving scene between her and the fallen priest that is as chilling as it is profound.
New to Carter’s world are an excellent Amanda Peet as the younger FBI agent Whitney who calls Mulder back to the bureau and a disappointingly one-dimensional Xzibit as her partner, who is one of the film’s weakest links. Peet and Duchovny share a couple of extremely effective scenes and she delivers her most confident and assured work since her undervalued turn in Igby Goes Down several years back. The best co-starring performance of the film though is given by Billy Connolly as the pedophile priest Crissman. Connolly is frankly astonishing in the part and his performance is among the most effective and eerie of the decade as he projects a damaged and at times sinister vulnerability that is hard to shake.
While Carter indeed doesn’t deliver the film many of the show’s fans have been asking for he does at least fill it with affectionate nods to the series, including a number of quick cameos and visual references. He also adds a late period appearance by one of the show’s most notable characters that allows for probably the film’s most emotional moment.
I Want to Believe isn’t a perfect film by any means. At times the main mystery seems a bit too telegraphed and tired and it’s debatable as to whether a side plot involving one of Scully’s patient is necessary as it is underwritten and at times uninvolving. Carter also missteps a couple of times in his attempts to lighten the mood, especially in a what could have been a clever scene involving photos of George W. Bush and J. Edgar Hoover, a moment spoiled by an unnecessary music queue. The film also fails to hit some of the expected emotional notes it goes for involving the relationship between Mulder and Scully, as though Carter had trouble knowing exactly where to take them as a couple. I actually found Carter’s often maligned direction here to be more effective than his usually more celebrated screenwriting. The co-written with Frank Spotnitz screenplay finally just feels a little under-developed and it hurts the film.
Still, problems aside I Want to Believe is a successful production that works as both a fine finale to the series and a hopeful attempt at restarting it. It is perhaps not what many of the show’s original series fans will want but it is what its creator wanted to deliver, marking it is as one of the most surprising and bravest films of the decade even though it isn’t always completely successful.
Even though everyone involved wants to continue the series with more films, Fox has effectively killed it. Releasing it with a zero ad campaign a week after one of the most successful films of all time, I Want to Believe barely scraped the five million mark on its opening day. Ironically the little cult series with a small but dedicated audience that became an international phenomenon is now back to where it started, which is perhaps the way it should be but for those of us who wanted many more of these it is a bitter disappointment.
Chris Carter marks himself as an exceptionally brave and personal filmmaker with The X-Files: I Want to Believe. It would have been easy for him to have made the fantastical monster movie that many fans expected but instead with I Want to Believe he delivers a heavily symbolic film ripe with religious imagery that suggests the ideas of faith and belief at the core of The X-Files were much deeper than just accepting the possibility of aliens and the paranormal.
I have seen several message boards postings lately asking that Carter apologize for not delivering the film many fans of the show wanted, I would say that for making a brave film obviously very close to the heart, Chris Carter and the cast and crew of I Want to Believe have absolutely nothing to apologize for.