Screens

Review: Indiana filmmaker's "The Book of Dallas"

The main character has a brush with death then strikes a deal to get out of hell

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A still from the series The Book of Dallas - SUBMITTED
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  • A still from the series The Book of Dallas

An atheist gets hit by a truck and sent to heaven. God offers him a deal in which he can avoid going to hell by writing and selling a book that clears up some of the major misconceptions about religion. It sounds like the set-up of a corny "faith-based film," but this is actually the premise behind a wild and witty web series called The Book of Dallas.

Set in writer-creator Joe Atkinson's home of Evansville, the series follows a cub reporter named Dallas McKay (Benjamin Crockett). Angry, liberal and unapologetically atheist, Dallas finds himself suffocating in the Indiana Bible Belt. "You're an atheist in this part of the country? That's bold," one of his friends says with a sharp tone.

Dallas quickly turns into a believer when he meets God in heaven — a quaint coffee shop where the lord regularly chows down on waffles. By the way, God is a fast-talking twentysomething woman. And she's tired of people committing atrocities in her name. "Crusades, inquisitions, genocides. Religion kills," she reminds Dallas. She sends him on a mission — to write and promote a book that shines a positive light on religion.

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While he's on tour with the book, Dallas faces obsessed fans, staunch naysayers and bloodthirsty reporters. We never hear what's in the book that's making people so upset, but the point is that it doesn't matter. Dallas' critics think he is simply wrong. The Book of Dallas takes satirical aim at this world in which too many people stubbornly think in terms of black and white, blinding themselves to the shades of gray in between. Although it was filmed back in 2012, the film's world is unfortunately familiar to the one we find ourselves in today. It's a contentious world of instant anger and knee-jerk reactions, of violent actions carried out for the sake of peace. As the series shows, it doesn't take much to make people snap. But it can also be just as easy to set them on a more positive path.

You can watch The Book of Dallas for free on Vimeo and the Court Street Productions website. The production company also produced the devastating documentary, From the Ashes: The University of Evansville Purple Aces, which premiered at the Heartland Film Festival last year. The Book of Dallas evokes the same kind of small-town warmth as that film. It also smacks of Kevin Smith comedies in the sense that it has a soft heart beneath its crude, razor-sharp humor. Sometimes, Dallas is too sweet, and his gee-whiz reaction to the madness around him can be more than a little nerve-grating. But Crockett ultimately carries the show with aplomb.

The Book of Dallas can be quite awkward and hokey at times, but it's ultimately a clever, charming series. Back in 2012, it received international distribution (and nearly two million views) on KoldCast TV. This show is definitely worthy of attention. And Atkinson is a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on — he's going places in Indy and beyond.

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