Judge Gordon Sullivan's prayers have finally been answered.
"Armed with a pistol and a past full of mistakes…"
Too many faith-based films try their darndest to be family friendly. Though I'm sure the best time to ensure lifelong faith is to inculcate it in childhood, the moments when faith is most often tested and forged are not generally family friendly. Instances of death, temptation, and loss are the moments when faith is either lost or reaffirmed. These are also not the kinds of occurrences we want in our "family" movies. Or, if we do, we must blunt their impact so as not to scare the children. In so doing, we also blunt the possibility for the resurgence of faith. Taken by Grace wisely eschews the family friendly formula of most Christian films, instead offering something like a thriller that shows us faith being tested from several sides. It's not a wholly successful experience, but it is a step up from the average faith-based film.
Carrie (Haylie Duff, Napoleon Dynamite) and Shawn (Bradley Dorsey, Meant to Be) are a couple struggling to keep their marriage together in the wake of his infidelity. They decide a camping trip will be just the thing to give them the time to reconnect. Everything is going as well as can be expected until Lucas Blackstone (Angus Macfadyen, Titus) shows up. He's just gotten out of prison, and he's looking for the man who killed his son. Kidnapping Carrie and Shawn is a part of his plan.
The best thing about Taken by Grace is unsurprisingly the central performance by Angus Macfadyen. He's given the most interesting character arc—father out for revenge—and he's the one who has to struggle most for his faith. He wants to do the right thing desperately, and at least at first he thinks that's revenge. And yet Macfadyen and the script never let him become a one-dimensional outlet for Bible-passage spewing. Instead, Macfayden seems to actually wrestle with his conviction and the death of his son. It's not the greatest performance ever put on film, but it elevates the film above many in its faith-based genre.
The film also wisely chooses to keep up the thriller aspects until the end. Many films in this genre drop the act as soon as possible to get to the moments where characters can have a contrived "argument" about some aspect of faith. Though there are definitely a few scenes like that here, they're handled well within the confines of the married couple arguing about his infidelity. Otherwise, the film moves pretty relentlessly through its premise, kidnapping through to revelations and resolutions between the characters. Things even end on a "Where are they now?" kind of montage, adding a bit of docudrama to the proceedings.
The DVD itself is pretty good. For what's obviously a lower-budgeted picture this 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is fine. Detail is generally strong, with well-saturated colors. Darker scenes aren't as clear as I'd like, but that's as much the fault of the budget as this transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track does a fine job with the dialogue, but don't expect the world's richest soundscape.
Extras start with a commentary by the film's director and actor producer Bradley Dorsey, and include a behind-the-scenes featurette and interviews with the cast.
Taken by Grace is much more for the adventurous fan of faith-based filmmaking than it is for the adventurous fan of thrillers looking to expand his or her palette. The film is an okay thriller by faith-based standards, but it still doesn't hold up to even the most tame cable-ready DTV offers. The setup of the bickering husband/wife duo feels contrived, and when they argue, it can sometimes feel like they're reading lines from a self-help book off of a teleprompter. Every time we're thrown into a discussion of their faith the film feels like it might derail. Also, any kind of didactic approach to faith ends up feeling adolescent. The filmmakers play God by setting up a world in which faith makes sense, and so when faith makes sense it's like they cheated from the outset rather than confronting the messy world we all live in, a world in which faith is difficult and not assured from the first frame. I doubt the average viewer is going to be totally turned off by the all the faith talk in Taken by Grace, but it always feels extraneous to the thriller elements, meaning that any group of mixed faithful and non-faithful will have a wildly different experience of the flick.
Taken by Grace is an above-average faith-based flick, the perfect vehicle for adults looking to see a Christian-oriented film that's not family-friendly. Though it's not strong enough to do much business outside the faith-based market, Taken by Grace shows there is some potential for crossover with the right combination of actors and scripts.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Pure Flix
Review content copyright © 2013 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.