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After the faith-based Christian film God’s Not Dead became a sleeper hit in 2014 by grossing more than $60 million, distributor Pure Flix was quick to get onboard the sequel God’s Not Dead 2, although it ultimately topped out at under $21 million in 2016. The company’s current release A Question of Faith represents a more traditional ensemble-cast drama that leans heavily on manipulative narrative techniques to emphasize its message, which will most likely be ignored by mainstream audiences while drawing support from the usual Christian constituencies.
If heavy-handedness were recognized as a desirable narrative technique, then A Question of Faith would certainly be an awards contender. By forcing together disparate characters based primarily on coincidence and thematic exigencies, the filmmakers succeed in driving home both their religious and social convictions, unrelated as they may be.
First however, they need to establish how good, decent people can fall from grace despite their best intentions. Serving as the associate pastor of a large Atlanta-area African-American Baptist church, David Newman (Richard T. Jones) has a lot on his plate. With a major construction project to expand church facilities pending before the congregation’s board and his upcoming installation as senior pastor to replace his father looming, David can find little time for his wife Theresa (Kim Fields), teenage son Junior (James Hooper) and youngest child Eric (Caleb T. Thomas).
Across town, construction contractor John Danielson (C. Thomas Howell) has problems of his own, with his business facing bankruptcy and the bank threatening to foreclose on the home he shares with his wife Mary (Renee O’Connor) and teenage daughter Michelle (Amber Thompson). He’s pinned his remaining hopes on Michelle landing a recording contract with a major gospel music label, relentlessly pushing her to repeatedly rehearse with their church choir. When Michelle collapses from congenital heart failure during her audition, John and Mary’s priorities shift to supporting their daughter while she awaits a suitable transplant donor. The fates of these two families are joined when tragedy suddenly strikes the Newmans as well and Eric ends up in a hospital intensive care unit, barely clinging to life.
Borrowing the intersecting storylines technique common to many a low-budget independent film, screenwriter Ty Manns also introduces Latina teen Maria (Karen Valero), who ultimately bears responsibility for Eric’s critical condition, to the complete bewilderment of her mother Kate (Jaci Velasquez). Each facing monumental personal catastrophes, David, John and Maria must all struggle with their faith, examining how God’s plan for them will emerge from such dire circumstances.
Filmmaker Kevan Otto appears well within his comfort zone with his latest feature, after writing or directing the likes of Christian-focused releases What Would Jesus Do? and Grace of God, among others. Besides the religious themes, Otto and Manns have practical issues on their minds as well, sending stern messages about the perils of texting and driving, as well as the virtues of voluntary organ donation.
The castmembers take this awkwardly integrated proselytizing in stride, gamely delivering serious-faced sermons on their assigned topics. The not-coincidentally named pastor Newman ends up on the receiving end of much of this haranguing, and Jones manages to make his character’s change of heart appear almost believable. Fields as his steadfast wife deserves the pastor’s job herself for displaying such clear-eyed compassion toward her husband and family in the midst of tragedy. Despite a great deal of bluster, Howell doesn’t really have much to say, but makes for a suitable example of faith regained.
While Otto demonstrates a good deal of passion for his project, it isn’t matched by a similar level of creativity. Camerawork, lighting and editing are all more on the level of broadcast TV than cinema, but perhaps fewer visual distractions make the self-conscious messaging more impactful.
Production company: Silver Linings Entertainment
Distributor: Pure Flix
Cast: Richard T. Jones, Kim Fields, Caleb T. Thomas, C. Thomas Howell, Renee O’Connor, T.C. Stallings, Jaci Velasquez, Marliss Amiea, James Hooper, Amber Thompson, Karen Valero
Director: Kevan Otto
Screenwriter: Ty Manns
Producers: Angela White, Lisa Diane Washington
Executive producer: Cameron Lewis
Director of photography: Chase Bowman
Editor: Sean Robert Olson
Music: Nelson Jackson III
Rated PG, 104 minutes
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival