DVD Release Date: August 16, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: February 25, 2011 (limited)
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and thematic elements)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: David G. Evans
Actors: Michael Joiner, Mike Higgenbottom, Louis Gossett Jr., Cindy Hodge, Joy Parmer Moore, Dawntoya Tomason, Stephen Dervan, Chris Thomas, Kiana McDaniel, George Bradshaw, Chris Johnson, Jessica Maharrey

Following in the footsteps of the team at Sherwood Pictures, namely the Georgia-based church responsible for Facing the GiantsFireproof and the forthcoming Courageous, the creative arts team from Calvary Church in Cordova, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, has now made its foray into faith-based filmmaking with The Grace Card.

And considering the project was crafted by a cast of relative newcomers, save for veteran actor Louis Gossett Jr. who plays a smaller role and seasoned screenwriter Howard Klausner (Space Cowboys), it's a debut they can all be proud of. Not only is the film's cinematography and acting, particularly from the leads Michael Joiner and Mike Higgenbottom, a serious step up from similar low-budget fare, but truth be told, The Grace Card is actually a thought-provoking examination of what faith and redemption looks like in this big, messy ol' world of ours.

Well, until the story takes a sharp right turn into Clichédom, that is.

Before the film's transition into, well, everything you've seen before in Christian movies, we're introduced to a couple of instantly engaging protagonists. Leading the pack is Bill McDonald who goes by "Mac" (Joiner), a police officer harboring some major resentment. Not that anyone would blame him, mind you, his young son died when he was only five, and Mac still blames himself for encouraging him to ride his bike that day. If that wasn't already enough to make things stressful at home with his wife Sara (Joy Parmer Moore) and teenage son Blake (Robert Erickson), Mac is constantly being passed over for promotions at work.

That's really the least of Mac's problems, though. As it turns out, his marriage to Sara has been on the rocks for some time now, and poor Blake is flunking out of high school and experimenting with drugs. Then adding the proverbial insult to injury, he's now forced to partner with the very guy who got his promotion, Sam Wright (Higgenbottom), an upright, outspoken man who'd rather be a pastor than a policeman, but can't make enough money to support his family by preaching alone, hence the uniform.

For Mac, a man who clearly prefers the solitary life, sharing a car with a chatty guy who isn't afraid to talk about his faith, is downright unbearable. Plus, the fact that Sam is black certainly doesn't help since it was an African American man who accidentally ran over his son all those years ago. Ever since the sad day, Mac has adopted some particularly short-sided, bigoted perspectives. So as you can probably imagine, it's pretty tense in that police car, especially those first couple of weeks.

Tension eventually segues into something better, though, and it's in those moments of conversation, uncomfortable and otherwise, when life, faith, family and modern day race relations are discussed in a very real way. In fact, it's the scenes featuring Mac and Sam that are inevitably the movie's most powerful as they talk about pain, uncertainty and where they've both fallen short.

Unlike many Christian movies where a believer's life is intersecting with an unbeliever's, Sam isn't only interested in "saving" Mac, though. Sure, he'd love for Mac to experience the transforming power in a personal relationship with Jesus, but he doesn't make it his only priority—just one of the many things that make The Grace Card such a refreshing change of pace.

Unfortunately, these powerful moments are still nestled within the rest of the cobbled-together plot that's often ham-fisted and downright hokey. Instead of focusing on these men and the underlying themes of reconciliation, redemption and friendship, the filmmakers also throw in a few extra "moral of the story" moments that lack a similar level of sophistication and gravitas. And because of those questionable steps toward preachiness, the movie isn't as compelling as it could be, especially for the "unchurched" viewers it's probably intended for.


Those quibbles aside, The Grace Card still is a step in a promising direction for Christian films. These filmmakers are asking the big questions and not always intent on providing on all the answers—right away, anyway. And with a continued commitment to story craft rather than sermonizing, they may even hit their next effort straight out of the park.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Some social drinking, plus Mac drinks from a flask while sitting in a chapel. A marijuana pipe is also uncovered.

  • Language/Profanity: "Freaking" stands in for its more harsh counterpart on one occasion, and a racial epithet is cut short before it's actually said.

  • Sex/Nudity: None.

  • Violence: A young boy is struck and killed by a car. Some gunfire and turbulent situations, particularly when a young women says her significant other hurt also her child. At one point, the suspect puts a gun to Mac's head.
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.