Amish Grace -- TV Review

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Thirty minutes into "Amish Grace," Lifetime Movie Network's new movie based on the 2006 shootings at the West Nickel Mines School in Pennsylvania, it's hard to know what the filmmakers are going to do for the remaining hour.

In just that short period, we've seen an idyllic portrayal of Amish home life. We've also seen the caring TV reporter who will try to make sense of the events that transpire after the shootings. And we've seen the killer-to-be -- Charlie Roberts (John Churchill), the milk truck driver for the Old Order Amish community, face fixed into permanent constipation mode -- fulminating over his ghastly crimes, then driving up to the schoolhouse and entering with a duffel bag of ammo.

But despite this recitation of events as they happened, "Grace" is not about the shootings. Instead, it is about forgiveness and banishment of vengeance in the face of acts so heinous that the latter seems more understandable than the former. On the day of the shootings, the Amish visit Roberts' widow (Tammy Blanchard) and offer her forgiveness (for Charlie) and comfort (for herself and her children). "We will not allow hatred into our hearts," says one, even as a grieving father's tears spill.

Such generosity takes a while to penetrate on both sides of the fence, but in small degrees it becomes clear that this is the community's genuine belief system. To the credit of the screenplay, the dialogue works, relying less on Bible quotations than gently espoused faith. The story is assisted by solid, convincing acting -- including a moving turn from Emmy winner Blanchard as Amy Roberts. It's almost impossible not to tear up when the Amish first approach her or when they turn up later at Charles' otherwise sparsely attended funeral.

"Grace" is far from perfect; the bigger-picture concepts it should explore more artfully are dampened by the literal storytelling structure, and for a time it devolves into near grief porn; how many ways do you need to show parents crumpled in agony? Yet despite these often less-than-graceful aspects, "Grace" is an effective, heartfelt take on walking the walk and talking the talk. By avoiding preachiness, it proves that one can live a religious ideal -- even in the face of disbelief from an entire outside world.

Airdate: 8-10 p.m. Sunday, March 28 (Lifetime Movie Network)

Production: Larry A. Thompson Organization
Cast: Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tammy Blanchard, Matt Letscher, Fay Masterson, Madison Mason, Gary Graham, Darcy Rose Byrnes, Karley Scott Collins, Eugene Byrd, Bruce Nozick, Amy Sloan, John Churchill, Madison Davenport
Executive producer: Larry A. Thompson
Writers: Sylvie White, Teena Booth
Based on the book by: Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-Zercher
Producers: Kyle A. Clark, Marta M. Mobley
Director: Gregg Champion
Director of photography Ross Berryman
Production designer: Marek Dobrowolski
Costume designer: Van Broughton Ramsey
Casting: Natalie Hart, Jason LaPadura
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