Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

Release Date: April 4, 2003

Actors: Billy Bob Thornton, Kirsten Dunst, Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter, Lucy Robinson

Director: Ed Solomon

Special Notes: I interviewed Ed Solomon, Morgan Freeman and Kirsten Dunst about this movie. Ed told me that he didn't start out to make a Christian movie, but that it just ended up looking like one. He said the secular press has given him a lot of grief about it being so "religious" and given him bad reviews because of it. Then he smiled and said, "But there's nothing really wrong with making a Christian movie is there? I guess some people will like it."

Plot: After serving 22 years in prison for the death of a 16 year-old convenience clerk during an attempted robbery, Manual Jordan (Thornton) is a free man. After staring at his victim's face in a newspaper clipping on his cell wall every day, the paroled man returns to the neighborhood where the crime took place. Manual doesn't know why he's there but somehow feels that by being there, he can find redemption and forgiveness. He stumbles upon a community center run by Pastor Miles Evans (Freeman) where he's given a job and a place to stay. While performing his duties, he has the opportunity to help a lost young woman (Dunst) regain her self-esteem and will to live. He also influences the young people who hang around the center looking for guidance and a friend. In a further attempt to reconcile his past, Manual makes friends with Adele (Hunter), the older sister of the boy he killed. Adele is a struggling single mom of a troubled teenage son who's named after the brother she lost. Without her knowing who he is, the two begin a relationship and Manual sees an opportunity to help her son and perhaps gain the redemption he's been seeking.

Good: This movie makes a profound statement about man's inherent need to feel redemption and his longing to forgive and be forgiven. "Levity" is proof that sometimes films with the best "Christian" message are the ones that never intended to be them in the first place. Ed Solomon has written and directed a masterpiece that will touch every person who sees it and hopefully change lives. This is a profound and moving story proving the desire for forgiveness and redemption is in us all, even if a person doesn't believe in God. The talented cast delivers an incredible story portraying characters that have a lot of unknown qualities to them and unanswered questions about their lives. Yet Solomon uses a lot of humor in how mankind behaves and that's what makes the story so compelling and interesting. I liked the fact that most audiences will be able to relate with one of the characters in some capacity. I recently interviewed Ed Solomon and found it interesting that he had no idea that his movie would have such a strong spiritual message. He truly set out to write a story based on a real life person and situation that he had observed when he was younger and had no idea that the end result would be such a strong statement about a man's desperate need to get forgiveness and find redemption. In fact, I mentioned a couple of scenes where he had beautifully shown how God had made himself known to Manual and answered Manual's challenge of if God even existed or not. Solomon replied, "You know you're right. I never even thought of it that way." That moment was profound for me because it confirmed what I have been saying to the Christian community for years, that God can use anyone (writer, director, actor, and producer) and any film, to get His message out to people who may never come to see a "Christian" movie but will willingly step into a theater to see an R rated movie with their favorite star or director. The funny thing is, God is everywhere in this R rated story; from the references to Cain and Abel, to the mission statement Manual writes for his life, to every character who yearns for forgiveness, redemption or to be "saved" from their circumstances, even in the profound and miraculous ending. Parents, if you take your mature teenagers to go see this movie, discuss it afterwards. Simple discussions could be about: Dunst's troubled teenager turning from her drinking and drugs to gaining her self respect and desire to live, the teenage boy who's in a gang and wants to kill for revenge until God gives him a second chance, the preacher who forces teenagers to listen to sermons in hopes that God will plant a seed, the sister who needs to forgive the man who killed her brother so that she can go on in life and the man who challenged God to give him a second chance to redeem his life and be forgiven. This is a story that will touch people on many levels and perhaps that's why critics hate it so much -- because it has a powerful and profound spiritual message.

Bad: The reason for the R rating is mostly language, a couple of scenes of shooting violence and an implied sexual situation that's never shown. Solomon used language (which he later admitted to me that he felt it might be a problem for some Christians) to portray the hardness of the characters and their street lives. Obviously a movie doesn't have to have a lot of bad language or religious profanity to make a point or be a good movie but in this case, the writer/director chose to portray his slice-of-life that way. The pacing is slow, direct, methodical and character driven without a lot of action. The only scene of violence is a flashback to the murder and another shooting situation in the end. It's implied that Manual and Adele spend the night together but no nudity or sexual situation other than kissing is shown.

Bottom Line: This is an insightful tale of second chances -- mesmerizing and challenging. This is not an easy movie to watch, nor is it a movie I'm recommending everyone go see just because it has a Godly message. But if you're interested in a story that shows how God can restore lives that are lost, redeem hearts that have given up on God or don't believe in Him, give forgiveness to those who thought their sin was too great to forgive, and allow those who never thought they would forgive to do so, then this is a movie you will enjoy.