Starring: Abigail Cowan, Tom Lewis, Eric Dane, Famke Jansen, Nina Dobrev, and Logan Marshall-Green.
Directed By: DJ Caruso
Where I Watched it: Peacock
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Description Provided By: The Media Access Group
Narration By: Claudia Dunn
The Plot: Angel (Cowan) is a highly coveted prostitute at a brothel in the Gold rush era, in a town ironically called Paradise. She endures constant engagements with men, and seems relegated to the idea that this is all she can ever be or will be good for. Michael (Lewis) is a farmer with deep religious convictions, who prays to God to give him a wife, and by chance, he sees a sign that makes him believe that God has chosen Angel. So, he sets out on his mission to convince Angel that she is worthy of actual love, and a life away from the brothel.
What Works: Surprisingly, I have a favorable opinion of this faith based historical romance, for a myriad of reasons. First, i think that often times when we jump into a faith based film, that can mean anything. There’s such a wide range of quality between movies like Heaven is For Real, Breakthrough, and miracles From Heaven and a film like Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. There are faith based movies that are extremely low budget, or attract the worst actors known to man. Anyone remember Casper Van Dien anchoring that omega Code franchise? That was the best they could get?
But here, against all odds, someone gave this script to DJ Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle eye) and he said Yes. His ability to coherently direct a film and understand what makes audiences drawn to characters and plot is what makes this film work. Instead of making it feel like relentless scripture performed by actors who are a missed rent check away from needing to work at Costco, he attracted some solid talent.
Abigail Cowan is surprisingly effective in the role of Angel. of course, this is an everything but the kitchen sink role, as Angel is a character who seems to suffer through a never ending stream of horrendous things. Don’t believe me? The film will remind you in the credits that in addition to this being based on a novel, there is now a redeeming Love charity for victims of human trafficking. So, this film has a point of view, and it wants you to know it.
And perhaps, more than anything else, it’s the heavy subject matter that made me unable to turn away. It was just such an improbable amount of horrific things all thrown in one film, and this film was supposedly aimed at the church audience, and somehow managed a PG-13 rating, despite tackling everything from rape to abortion to pedophilia to even Michael’s brief comments on slavery.
Movies sometimes are successful just when able to spark conversation, and get your mind going, and for me, Redeeming Love did a lot of that. I don’t quite understand how this film actually got made, or who the target audience was, but I appreciate it for keeping me engaged for 135 minutes.
What Doesn’t Work: As is typical of this Christian genre, there still is bad acting. There’s just less of it. Surprisingly, some of the bad acting actually comes from some of the more well known names. Eric Dane’s weird character and accent feel like he’s trying to replicate Daniel Day Lewis’s Gangs Of New York performance, just with a varied accent. And the hilarity that two diffferent brothel owners have the names “Duke” and “Duchess” despite the fact that they’re not related, and neither knows of the others existence, is just lazy writing.
It can’t be that all brothel owners of the period were picking nicknames that made them sound descendent of British royalty.
There are also some moments where the cuts feel so abrupt, or it actually feels like something is missing. not with the audio description, but with the actual scenes shot for the film. It’s likely that the MPAA was on the verge here between an R rating and PG-13, and Caruso needed to just chop certain things to earn the rating, and hoped for the best. i would definitely call this a hard PG-13 rating, because there is so much thematic material you may or may not be ready to discuss even with your 13 year old. Though if I’m being honest, I doubt they are clamoring to watch this anyway.
The Blind Perspective: While I had convinced myself that the narrator was not a real human because she sounded too much like an Alexa or Siri voice, she is. There’s a human narrator here. That did surprise me.
The actual content of the description is well done. You follow all the scenes rather perfectly, and it doesn’t shy away from making sure you are acutely aware of the unsavory things happening on screen. The narration also does a beautiful job with it’s enhancements through adjectives in its description, making sure we know the color of someone’s dress, the style of their hair, their non-verbal facial reactions, and just keeping the film well rounded. Redeeming Love is the kind of film that often likes to sit and meditate for a minute, which really allows more non-dialogue time for the description to take place.
Final Thoughts: My expectations going into this were low. I was unaware of the plot structure, but my assumption was this was another low budget Christian film populated with a cast and crew that aren’t getting work anymore. While it isn’t perfect, it doesn’t deserve nearly the score it has on Rotten Tomatoes. Just looking at the disparity between the audience score and the overall critic score should let you know that perhaps people are being a bit too judge mental for perhaps a set of reasons that Redeeming Love manages to overcome.
Final Grade: B