Review by Gene
Despite this being a movie review blog from a Christian perspective, this is only the second blatantly Christian movie (to my recollection) that we have covered. The first being 2012’s October Baby, which I reviewed back in July. In that review I mentioned how it seems Christian films are getting a little better at delivering a quality product. That trend continues, for the most part, with this film, another 2012 product. Unconditional has been in my Netflix queue for a while now, and I finally decided to take a break from newer releases and check out something that perhaps more people have readily available to them.
Lynn Collins (John Carter) plays Samantha Crawford, a woman who must come to grips with her husband’s unsolved murder and the prospects of a life without him. The movie opens with a somewhat strange narration set to sketch drawings of Samantha’s life with her husband up until his murder. I thought this segment was a little poorly done. There were some scenes near the end of the movie that, with a little tweaking, would’ve been better placed here at the beginning in order to grab hold of the viewer without giving much away, and keep them there until the story got it’s legs. In fact, after the first 20 to 30 minutes I was ready to give up on much hope of this being a good Christian film. By the end I was pleased with Lilly Collins’ performance, but in the opening scenes she seemed like a very “one face fits all emotions” type of actress. That was basically my opinion of her in John Carter, and I was worried it would continue in this film. If you’re watching this and feeling some of the same things, just stick with it, it gets better.
I was very happy to see Michael Ealy (Barbershop, Seven Pounds) play Samantha’s long-lost childhood friend, Joe Bradford. Joe’s friendship with Samantha is a good lesson for Christians on acceptance and a pure heart. We’re shown Joe as a young black boy brought into a school that is, by all appearances, all white. None of the kids would let Joe sit by them at lunch. None but the cute, red-headed little Samantha, who is a warm face for Joe in a crowd of scowls. Cue the Forrest Gump comparisons. Samantha befriends Joe when all others looked past him and placed themselves above him. To steal from a popular hymn, Samantha was a friend to the friendless, as Jesus is to all people everywhere, a trait that all Christians should mimic.
At some point Samantha and Joe lost touch and are only reunited when Samantha is at the right place at the right time: the scene of her husband’s murder on a cold, rainy night. Samantha is often shown having a lot of trouble, understandably so, coping with the loss of her husband. She has repeated flashbacks of sweet moments with him, but also has flashbacks of his death. A man with a mechanics rag and a red hoodie. That’s who she’s told killed her husband. This image haunts her. She’s consumed by it. She draws sketches of this man peering over his shoulder, as if to taunt her that he is just out of her reach. She has thoughts of vengeance. She has plans for how to take revenge on this man who took everything from her. More on this later.
As I mentioned, the first 20 to 30 minutes leave a lot to be desired as the movie finds it’s footing. Even throughout the remainder of the film there are some awkward scene transitions that don’t come across too smoothly. Almost as though there were a lot of options of how to piece this film together, especially considering the handful of flashbacks, and this is just how it fell together. The result is not really “choppy”, per se, but just a little abrupt in its execution. With that said, the scenes themselves get better as the movie goes along. Bonds are built between a couple characters and it becomes very heartfelt.
Most Christian movies, at least that I have seen, are heavily dependent on a final twist to the story. That’s not to say that a lot of movies don’t contain a twist or revelation of some kind to bring them to a conclusion, but it seems more prevalent in Christian films. This movie has that, in triplicate! Without spoiling anything I’ll just refer to them as twists one, two and three. Twist one involves Joe and isn’t much of a surprise. Twist two is where I thought the movie would end. It’s a good one and ties in a lot of elements to Samantha’s story while also keying on an underlying theme of redemption. The third and final twist is kind of an “icing on the cake” moment and doesn’t do much with the overall story except to make you feel better about the ending. My wife hates sad endings so I was glad she didn’t have anything to complain about here 🙂
Now, back to Samantha’s desire for revenge. These thoughts takeover everything good in her. Samantha had told a story once to her husband about a sparrow who was scared of storms. The sparrow’s mother told her all her life to just hunker down and wait for it to pass. When she got older, her mother eventually told her the truth: a storm doesn’t actually take away the sun. No storm can. The sun is always shining. She just needs to rise above the clouds to find it. This advice, rising above the clouds, is exactly what Samantha had forgotten. Vengeance had consumed her and covered up the sun, so to speak. At the end of the movie we’re given an awesome analogy to this story which fits perfectly with what Samantha was dealing with. The sun is God’s love for us. Samantha had allowed vengeance rather than love to rule in her heart. She was seeking her own revenge and not allowing room for God (Romans 12:17-21). She wasn’t overcoming evil, she was matching it. As Christians, we should “never pay back evil for evil, but overcome evil with good.” At times it may seem like God’s love for us is gone, like it’s nowhere to be seen, but in reality it’s always there. We just can’t allow the storms to overcome us, we have to rise above the clouds. God’s love is shown to us through His Son Jesus (John 3:16), and it’s always there.
One element to the film which I didn’t talk about much here is Joe and his friend Denise’s (Danielle Lewis) involvement with the local youth. Joe and Denise held what seemed like an after school program at Joe’s home. The kids looked up to him, called him Papa Joe, and genuinely valued his advice and opinions on their lives. What’s best is this particular part of the film is based on a true story, as described further during the end credits. Much of the movie centers around this involvement and it often reminded me of Jesus’ numerous encounters with groups of children during his ministry. Jesus, contrary to the advice of his disciples, would encourage the children to come to him. He tells us that the “Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14). In the projects, where Joe lived and met with these children, kids can lose that quality of innocence that Jesus was implying much sooner than they should. As much as we have opportunity, we should nourish that innocent quality in children and protect them from losing it too soon and becoming jaded to the world and its troubles.
My Rating: 3.5/5
I think this is a wonderful story. It has a terrific message of God’s love and how, even in the toughest times in life, it is always there for us to find. If most Christian films can be as good in their delivery, the acting and the dialogue as this, then I think it won’t be long before they lose their stigma of being sub-par as a whole. The problems at the beginning of the film as well as the sometimes awkward scene transitions throughout the film keep me from giving this too high of a rating. The acting is overall not too bad, but not great either. Ealy gives a good performance and Collins is satisfactory. It helps a lot when good stories are able to draw at least decent actors, which many Christian films just don’t have the luxury of. It will take a while to catch your interest, but if you can keep with it then I think you’ll be satisfied with this film.