Monday, February 14, 2011
The Grace Card -- grace, forgiveness and reconciliation
Director: David Evans, 2010. (PG-13)
The Grace Card, which opens in February 25, is a Christian film with a clear Christian message of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. More than this, though, it is surprisingly enjoyable, even if it resorts to melodrama at the climax; this ending brought tears to my eyes at a pre-screening.
In 2006 a church in Georgia showed that an independent David could beat the Hollywood Goliath by making a full length feature film (Facing the Giants) and turned a thousand-fold profit. It followed this success with Fireproof in 2008, a film that Dr. David Evans, a Tennessee opthalmologist, saw. When he exited the cineplex he decided that his church could make a film. And with the help from his wife as executive producer, he produced and directed The Grace Card, using only two name actors and a mere $200K budget.
At the heart of the film are two men, as opposite as oil and vinegar, or chalk and chocolate. Mac McDonald (Michael Joiner, a professional TV actor) is a white cop with attitude problems. He lost a son to a tragedy 17 years earlier and exudes anger at everyone. His remaining son Blake (Rob Ellison), who is flunking his senior year of high school and running with the wrong crowd, is a key target for Mac's anger. His wife Sara (Joy Parmer Moore) somehow keeps the family afloat while the white waters of Mac's rage threaten to capsize it.
The first part of the film emphasizes the pain and bitterness that anger brings. One moment can change a life but it is the aftermath that slowly unravels the family. The Bible acknowledges that anger is a genuine and legitimate emotion (even Jesus got angry -- Jn. 2:15-16). But it warns us, "In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down in your anger" (Eph. 4:26). When we allow anger to simmer and fester it turns inward into bitterness, poisoning our personalities, killing our relationships. Mac is the epitome of this. But he is more than just a caricature. We can relate to his predicament.
Sam Wright (Michael Higgenbottom, a theatrical actor) is the other main character. Also a cop, his desire is to serve God in his ministry as pastor of a small church. But since they cannot support him yet, he is "moonlighting" as a patrol officer to pay the bills. Black and big, he has a positive outlook and an easy laugh. When he gets promoted to sergeant, a promotion Mac has been coveting (see the warnings of Ex. 20:17) but lost because of his attitude problem, and then placed as Mac's partner, the film is poised to take off.
Evans juxtaposes the dinners of the two families to highlight the differences. Mac's meal is silent and tense, filled with fearful glances, a rumbling volcano waiting to violently explode. Sam's family begins with a grateful prayer of grace, spoken by one of his two girls, as they hold hands together. This meal draws them together in laughter and sharing. Love is present.
A domestic violence call brings the patrol partners to a Memphis apartment. Characteristically, Mac goes it alone and finds himself on the wrong end of a gun held by a black man. His racial prejudices spill over, making it clear where he stands vis-a-vis his partner. And the hatred that he thrusts on Sam causes Sam, in turn, to experience hatred of Mac. The cycle of hate bears only wounds and pain. How can Sam continue as a pastor if he is hating rather than loving his neighbor? Further, his congregation is growing as stagnant as Mac's career. But it is Sam's wise old grandfather, George (Louis Gossett Jr., the big-name here), who offers Sam advice and the grace card.
Evans offers some thoughts on ministry as one of the sub-themes here. Sam thought his ministry was in the pulpit and his policing was second-fiddle, just a temporary gig. But ministry is serving people. Ministry meets people where they are, at street-level not in the comfy closets of study. Sam needed to hear this, and we need to be reminded of it. Most of us who follow Jesus are not vocational ministers. Most are business people, professionals, blue-collar workers, or home-makers. Yet, we have a ministry wherever God has placed us. Jesus commanded all of us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19). We carry the good news of Jesus Christ to those in the next cubicle. Our coworkers may never enter a church building and hear the ministry of our pastor, yet we have the incredible opportunity to be witnesses to them of grace and mercy, forgiveness and faith.
Although the low budget nature of The Grace Card prevents big feature action it still provides some elements from Hollywood police dramas. The acting is surprisingly good, considering most of the actors are first time performers in a feature film. (Moore, for example, was a school teacher.) What Evans coaxes out of them is down-to-earth realism. They could be your next door neighbors. The film does get a little preachy in a couple of places, but it can be forgiven this as it strives to show rather than tell. The plot is a little predictable, and having seen the trailer I could more or less guess where it was going. Yet, it throws an unforseen twist in midway that leads to an inevitable opportunity for reconciliation.
The real message of The Grace Card is forgiveness and reconciliation. All of us have a deep need, to find reconciliation with our heavenly father. God offers us this (2 Cor. 5:20). We can all receive redemption and reconciliation by grace (Eph. 1:7). His arm extends to even the worst of sinners offering forgiveness from all our sins (Acts 2:38). We can never underestimate the power of God's love (Rom. 8:37-38).
The Grace Card may only play in a few theaters in a few cities, but it is worth the price of admission. If nothing else, it reminds us of our need to heal the deep wounds that we all carry. And it offers the hope of a salve for these wounds -- grace. This is a "card" we all can carry in our wallets. When we do, we experience forgiveness in our hearts, a forgiveness that fosters reconciliation.
WATCH an exclusive 5-minute clip from the The Grace Card movie's FACEBOOK page before it opens in theaters across the nation next Friday, 2/25/2011!
Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs