So, if you have hung around my blog for any length of time, you will know that I have been on a Steve McQueen kick this last year. I’ve slowly been working my way through his filmography. And although I have yet to read a full biography of his life, I have been reading up on him.
So, when I heard Fathom Events was hosting a special screening of a new documentary on McQueen I was thrilled. When I heard that it was produced by Pastor/Evangelist Greg Laurie and that the intention of the film was to share McQueen’s story of conversion to Christianity, I was intrigued.MY EXPERIENCE
When I arrived to the initial screening, I was surprised to find it was sold out. I’ve been to other Fathom Events screenings and this is the first time a sell out has ever happened. Generally I am one of the few people in the theater. Thankfully, due to the high demand another screening was scheduled and I was able to attend. I made sure to buy my ticket in advance and arrived early to get a good seat. Unsurprisingly, I was the youngest person in the theater.
Steve McQueen: American Icon begins with an introduction by Greg Laurie along with a live recorded performance by the Christian band, Mercy Me, of their hit song I Can Only Imagine. This was to help promote the film based on the story behind the song which will be airing in theaters March 2018. In effect it served as a preview but also helped set the tone for the McQueen documentary.
While I am not especially knowledgeable on documentaries. I have watched a few. I’m no technical expert, but I know what interests me and what does not hold my attention.
The first two thirds of the film are spent laying the groundwork of McQueen’s life. Overall, the documentary did not introduce any new information about Steve McQueen that you couldn’t find in a cursory search about him. It gave a summary of his personal and career history. American Icon also discusses his passion for motor vehicles of all kinds. I found the pacing a bit sporadic and even slow at times. The transition between interviews and the voice over narration was a bit awkward.
American Icon includes interviews with several people who knew Steve personally towards the end of his life. This list includes his last wife and widow, a former girlfriend, his pilot instructor, his pastor and also a former stunt man. There were also interviews with Mel Gibson as well as the author of the biography the documentary is based on.
The last two gave some insight into the industry and the events surrounding McQueen’s life. But the most interesting and effective interviews were with those who knew him. When it comes to public figures, I am always more intrigued by who they are personally than with the facts surrounding their public image. I would have liked to hear more from people who knew McQueen in his earlier years. I think this would have given a more detailed perspective of his personality and the change he underwent in his later years.
This documentary also features some never before seen photographs of McQueen, many taken by his widow Barbara. There are also some never before released audio tapes of McQueen discussing his life. This is probably the most powerful aspect of the documentary as we get to hear directly from McQueen himself. American Icon also touches on some intriguing points of McQueen’s life, including his connections with Elvis, the Manson murders and Billy Graham.
Going in to this film, I knew the focus would be Steve’s conversion story. This is why the first two thirds of the film seemed to move slowly for me. It is not until the last twenty minutes of American Icon when all the little pieces are finally tied together to show the impact and sincerity of McQueen’s salvation. This was the point where I experienced “all the feels.”
In today’s celebrity culture which vilifies Christianity and its’ values, it is rare to hear a major star share their faith. In his private recordings, McQueen shares about how knowing God changed his entire perspective. One of his last expressed desires was to share what God had done for him. He never had the chance to really go public with his story because he died soon after. It brought me to tears to realize that thirty plus years after his death, McQueen is finally getting that chance to tell the world in his own words about the event that changed his life.
This is where American Icon excels. Based on the reviews I’ve read, I think many people are going into this film with expectations of learning more about Steve McQueen, the actor. But the focus of the documentary is on McQueen’s personal life and spiritual transformation towards the end of his life. This is not an informational film, but a missional one. It is a reflection on one man’s personal testimony of how all the fame and money in the world couldn’t fulfill him. American Icon’s purpose is to point out that fulfillment and salvation can only come through Jesus Christ.
American Icon ends with an altar call given by Greg Laurie. Some reviewers have called it a propaganda film and perhaps from their perspective it is. As a Christian myself, I happen to find it encouraging and inspirational. I am also glad to see Christian ministers such as Laurie thinking creatively outside of the box in the way they spread the message of faith.
Although, I found my attention wandering from time to time, when it all came together in the end, I found myself emotionally responding to American Icon. Though it is not the best documentary I’ve ever seen I recommend it. I really enjoyed the insights into McQueen’s life given by those who knew him personally. I was also powerfully impacted hearing McQueen speak about his life from a perspective of hindsight.