James Carroll is a former Catholic priest whose faith was rocked by Christianity’s militancy and anti-Semitism. When his book Constantine’s Sword—part memoir, part historical indictment—came out in early 2001, it was widely received as the sincere, ambitious attempt at personal reconciliation it was intended as, even if Carroll’s constant hand-wringing sometimes got the better of him. Now comes Oren Jacoby’s dutiful, uninspired documentary version of the text, narrated and hosted by Carroll himself. Not surprisingly, it suffers and soars on similar grounds as the book. Though the material is clearly explained, little of it will shock viewers: the Crusades, the infamous treaty between Pope Pius XII and Adolf Hitler, the rise of megachurches and evangelical fervor. Carroll speaks in a trained, reverent hush that might strike some as overly sensitive.
But more critically, there’s been a massive global shift since the book’s initial publication: Carroll’s concern over warring faiths is more prevalent, but also more complicated than he or Jacoby seem to fathom. In a post-9/11 climate, it’s almost beside the point to focus on the U.S. Air Force’s subtly institutionalized hawking of The Passion of the Christ in the mess hall, offending Jewish cadets. The deeper question is: Why do people feel the need for a fierce, even vindictive faith? This is not the doc to answer that.