It took only one good actor to spoil "Born Again," the story of the moral adventures of Charles Colson, the ex-White House counsel and ex-convict.
The picture is a hoot. There is a Richard M. Nixon with a putty nose, poking Henry Kissinger in the padded front, demanding, "Who's running that government, Henry, me or some creep your hired?" and Kissinger obsequiously trying to disassociate himself from Daniel Ellsberg. The voices are good, too.
But along comes Raymond St. Jacques as a prison buddy of Colson who brings some sensitivity into this minor role and thus ruins the whole hokey atmosphere of the piece. St. Jacques' part, that of the protector of the downtrodden, turns out to be as silly as any other, but his ability to suggest a human being shines through it.
Colson's version of his conversion from Nixon administration tough guy to born-again religious cannot tolerate any suggestion of human contradiction and complexity. His values, at least, come across as being consistent, whether he concerns himself with the power of the White House or of God. In politics, in prison and in his religious thinking, his policy seems always to have been to take the smaller risk of being hated or ridiculed with firmly establishing himself as a loyal ally of whoever is in charge - the president, the toughest prisoner of God.
From this protected position, he is able to look down on anyone who opposes him, with a moral view that is truly frightening. When a fellow prisoner tries to kill him, believing that he lost his police job because of a White House-ordered investigation, Colson defends himself with the declaration that that investigation had been ordered by the Justice Department, not the White House. Whether the investigation justified the man's being imprisoned is apparently not an issue.
Colson's son, part of a funny-icky representation of idyllic family life involving a man who, after all, declared that he would run over his own grandmother, seems to have picked up his father's standards. When he is arrested on a marijuana charge, it is clear that the police have not yet realized he is Charles Colson's son; and it is also apparent that the charge is true. Nevertheless, young Colson is obviously intended to pluck at your sympathies when he delcares that "they" have gotten his father and must be happy now that "they" have gotten him, too.
This view of different aspects of life is reinforced bya film technique suggesting that there is not much difference between the White House and prison. Colson puts out his hand to shake Nixon's, and the film cuts to his putting out his hand to be fingerprinted. The closing of the film shows a Ford administration official entering the White House, with its iron gates clanking behind and leaving the Colson family outside, less powerful but happier, as they declare. Then prison gates close over the picture of the White House. In addition to being a libel on the Ford administration, it relieves Colson of his moral responsibility as if the White House itself, and not the individuals in it, were the source of corruption.
Except for St. Jacques, the actors - Dean Jones as Colson, Anne Francis as his wife, Dana Andrews as his religious mentor, Jay Robinson as his law partner - are appropriately one-dimensional, with Robinson doing a comic Jewish stereotype while the others play God's chosen as rich Republicans. In this crowd, Senator Harold Hughes, while a little stiff at playing himself, is the best of the lot.
BORN AGAIN& Academy, Beacon Mall, Fair City Mall, Jefferson, K-B Studio, Landover Mall, McLean Cinema, Mercado Cinema and White Flint.