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"A QUESTION OF FAITH"
(2017) (Richard T. Jones, C. Thomas Howell) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A pastor and his family must contend with a life-changing event in their family that also involves two other families, none of which know each other.
PLOT:
David Newman (RICHARD T. JONES) is an associate pastor at a large church where he's going to take over as senior pastor from his father, Farnsworth Newman (GREGALAN WILLIAMS). Married to Theresa (KIM FIELDS) and father to Junior (JAMES HOOPER) and his younger, 12-year-old brother, Eric (CALEB THOMAS), David is not only preparing for that change, but also overseeing plans for construction of an addition to the church, with help from church member Cecil King (T.C. STALLINGS) and hoping for zoning approval from Lisa Pearl (MARLISS AMIEA).

With nearly all of the available contractors booked up, David and Cecil are resigned to possibly working with John Danielson (C. THOMAS HOWELL), a brooding, down-on-his-luck builder with mounting bills and not much of the way in pending work. And he and his wife, Mary (RENEE O'CONNOR), have other concerns as their teenage daughter, Michelle (AMBER THOMPSON), has had her dreams of becoming a professional singer sidetracked by the discovery of a congenital heart disorder that means she needs a heart transplant as soon as possible.

Unbeknownst to either family, a teenager driver, Maria Hernandez (KAREN VALERO), is going to change all of their lives. Ignoring the demands of her restaurant owner mom, Kate (JACI VELASQUEZ), that she stop texting while driving, the 17-year-old does just that and accidentally drives into Eric when he's distracted and crossing the street. Declared brain dead, the family -- including David's mom, Patricia (DONNA BISCOE), must decide what to do, unaware that Eric's donated heart will ultimately go to Michelle. As that plays out, David's and others' faith comes into question as they try to figure out why God would allow this to happen, all while David's parents and others insist that everyone must keep the faith and put their trust into God's hands and plans.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Every so often you'll hear stories or see TV or online accounts of people who hear the heartbeat of their former family member now beating in the chest of another person following the donor transplant of said organ. I can't begin to imagine what emotions both the recipient and the donor's family are going through at such moments, but there's no denying watching such encounters is incredibly powerful and moving.

And thus when something similar happens in a movie about such matters, such a scene should have its moment to shine, the performers should be given the opportunity to give it their all to drive home the emotional impact, and viewers should have the chance to be affected by the moment.

The religious movie "A Question of Faith" has such a moment, but instead of that being a cinematic alley-oop and slam dunk, if you will, it -- along with the recipient family learning the identity of the donor and the subsequent meeting of the two impacted families -- ends up relegated to a less powerful position of playing -- sans dialogue -- under a big "praise God" song that wraps up the proceedings.

This offering -- directed by Kevan Otto from a screenplay by Ty Manns -- is well-intended and sometimes hits the proper notes just right. But for much of its 100-some minute run time it comes off as a clumsily told and definitely heavy-handed film about faith, forgiveness and more that could and should have been so much better than it turns out to be.

The story revolves around a preacher (Richard T. Jones) who's about to take over the senior pastor position from his father (Gregory Alan Williams) a move that, coupled with church expansion plans, means he's missing more and more quality time with his wife (Kim Fields) and their two boys (James Hooper and Caleb T. Thomas). When he's late to pick up the younger son for a big basketball game, the 12-year-old wanders out into the street, looking at his phone rather than paying attention to traffic, and ends up run over by a 17-year-old driver (Karen Valero) who's doing the same thing.

That's obviously bad for the boy, but good news for a struggling construction company owner (C. Thomas Howell) and his wife (Renée O'Connor) who've just learned that their teenage daughter (Amber Thompson) and her promising singing career could be cut short by a previously undiscovered congenital heart condition that will require a new ticker.

If that seems like a somewhat complicated yet convenient way to fix the heart issue when God could and should have simply made the teen's heart right in the first place or fixed it through a miracle, then you're missing the point. And that is that God works in mysterious ways and one should put all of their belief in the Almighty and whatever His plan might be because, well, that's what you're supposed to do. Even if it brings great and unnecessary pain, doubt, bewilderment and more to multiple families when a far simpler, gentle and kinder solution could have been used.

But then we wouldn't have the material for a movie like this, and if handled with more cinematic aplomb, I could have gone along for the ride. But the storytelling and direction are mediocre at best (there are few surprises in how the story plays about). Beyond subduing what should have been the big, signature moments, the film opens with brief and quickly cut scenes featuring all of the main characters in a fashion that wouldn't pass muster in any film school. Some of the emotional moments feel forced rather than real. And some of the dialogue comes off as too on the nose about faith. Rather than sounding like real conversations between family members, they sound like obvious preaching (both to the other character[s] and the audience).

I get it. People who go see these sorts of films want and expect this sort of material and affirmation of their faith, and that's all fine and dandy at a church service. But movies -- if they're going to be seen outside the choir, if you will, need and demand more than that, along with levels of subtlety and metaphor rather than heavy-handed literalism.

I know I've said this before and I'll keep saying it until those making religious films understand the point. Go back and watch "Field of Dreams" and then watch "A Question of Faith" and tell me which is a better example of going the distance in one's faith.

Those involved in making this film don't seem to have faith in telling their tale in anything but cinematic sermon fashion, all while shortchanging the powerful and conclusive moments everyone wants to see, experience and feel to their fullest. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed September 25, 2017 / Posted September 28, 2017


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