Unconditional: Film Review

This inspirational drama, while trafficking in cliches, manages not to deliver its message too heavily. 

Brent McCorkle's inspirational drama stars Michael Ealy as a minister to "at risk" inner-city children.

There’s an awful lot of suffering on display in Unconditional, a faith-based drama that avoids overt religiosity even as it preaches tolerance and understanding. This melodrama about the reunion between a children’s book author bereft over the recent shooting death of her husband and a community activist who cares for inner-city children suffers from plot contrivances and clichéd elements. But its heart is in the right place, and the appealing lead performances by Lynn Collins and Michael Ealy provide some compensation.

Collins plays Samantha, who is seen contemplating suicide when she happens upon a car accident in which a young girl is hurt. She rushes the victim and her brother to the hospital, where she comes into contact with her old childhood friend Joe (Ealy), who after a stint in prison has devoted himself to working with “at risk” inner city kids.

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Even as the pair resume their relationship, Samantha devotes herself to finding her husband’s killer, not finding much help from a cynical detective (Bruce McGill) who is content to just write it off an just another urban shooting. Meanwhile, Joe — a character based on a real-life figure, “Papa” Joe Bradford — struggles with his own problems, including a potentially fatal kidney disease to which he’s not paying proper attention.

Struggling with writer’s block, Samantha finds herself opening up emotionally after coming into contact with the young kids to whom Joe’s attending, and by the film’s end has even managed to single-handedly solve the mystery of her husband’s murder.

The latter plot development is the least convincing aspect of the screenplay by writer/director Brent McCorkle, which mainly traffics in familiar inspirational themes. But the message is thankfully not applied too heavily, and the central relationship between the two main characters -- the history of which is delineated in a series of flashbacks to such childhood incidents as when she rescued him after a potentially deadly snakebite -- is rendered in moving fashion.

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Both Collins (10 Years, John Carter) and Ealy (TV’s Common Law, Sleeper Cell) deliver sensitive, understated turns, and the performances by the child actors, including Gabriella Phillips as a young mute girl and Kwesi Boakye as her protective brother, are uncommonly natural.  

Opens: Sept. 21 (Harbinger Media Partners)

Cast: Lynn Collins, Michael Ealy, Bruce McGill, Kwesi Boakye, Gabriella Phillips

Director/screenwriter/editor: Brent McCorkle

Producers: Jason Atkins, J. Wesley Legg

Executive producer: Shannon Atkins

Director of photography: Michael Regalbuto

Production designer: Kay Lee

Costume designer: Jade Rain

Music: Brent McCorkle, Mark Petrie

Rated PG-13, 92 min