Fox // 2010 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 8th, 2010
Life changes. Faith remains.
On October 2nd, 2006, a man named Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into the West Nickel Mines School (the primary school of a local Amish community) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. After holding female students hostage for a brief period of time, Roberts began shooting. He killed five young girls and wounded five more before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. The story naturally became the subject of national media attention, but as the details developed, the emphasis was placed on the surprising reaction of the Amish community. The members of the community chose to forgive the shooter and reconcile with his family members, showing astonishing grace and tenderness in the face of overwhelming tragedy. Considerably less surprising is the fact that this tale was quickly turned into a Lifetime made-for-television movie, Amish Grace.
The film is a gentle, good-natured, well-intentioned drama that does all it can to remain respectful, but there's a certain sense that the most respectful thing would have been to avoid turning the story into a Lifetime movie to begin with. It's noted at numerous points throughout the film that the Amish are not fond of the media, and it's clear that most would not be happy about the idea of this horrifying event being recreated for television so soon after the tragedy. The authors of the novel upon which the film was based distanced themselves from the production, refusing to collaborate with the filmmakers in any way (aside from selling the rights, naturally) out of respect for the feelings of the affected Amish community.
However, let's set aside the question of whether it was a good idea to make this film. The film has been made and that is that. So is it worth watching? Well, I'll put it this way: Amish Grace is pretty much on the level of quality that one generally expects from a Lifetime movie, albeit one that deals with particularly painful material (though Lifetime is known for producing tearjerkers, surely few stories contain as much emotional dynamite as a tale of innocent Amish girls being brutally murdered). There were certainly moments when I found myself a bit shaken emotionally, though I have to admit these moments were not so much generated by the skill of the filmmakers as by the real-life story (and my own memories of it) upon which the film is based.
The movie is best when it's working with the smaller details: the specifics of life in the Amish community, the overbearing guilt of the woman (Tammy Blanchard, Cadillac Records) who was married to the murderer, and particularly the conversations on the subject of forgiveness. It's that last item that really packs a punch: beneath the official, benevolent, forgiving response of the community leaders are individuals who cannot help but hold burning hatred towards the man that killed these children. However, Amish Grace trips over itself when handling some of the big plot developments and the major details, doing a bit too much exploitative fictionalizing for the film's own good and occasionally entering the sort of overbearing "sermonizing mode" that afflicts so many Christian films.
The performances aren't exactly nuanced but they get the job done well enough. Tammy Blanchard's performance was the most affecting to me, reminiscent of Marcia Gay Harden's similarly distraught character in the overlooked American Gun. The central character of the story is the fictional Ida Grabey (Kimberly Williams-Paisley, According to Jim), who has the most trouble forgiving the killer. Williams-Paisley handles the role well, but Matt Letscher (Eli Stone) has a bit of trouble in making her husband a convincing character. The story is largely seen through the eyes of a reporter named Jill Green (Fay Masterson, Paparazzi), but the character never really registers.
Fox supplied us with a screener disc of Amish Grace featuring subpar audio and video, so I am unable to comment on the quality of either. No supplements are included on the disc.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated