Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
USA, 2019. Fox 2000 Pictures, TSG Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox. Screenplay by Grant Nieporte, based on the book by Joyce Smith. Cinematography by Zoran Popovic. Produced by DeVon Franklin. Music by Marcelo Zarvos. Production Design by Gae S. Buckley. Costume Design by Kimberly Adams-Galligan. Film Editing by Maysie Hoy.
Three friends are enjoying the winter weather when they decide to walk on a frozen lake despite warnings that it’s not safe. They all fall through and two are rescued relatively quickly, while the third, a young man named John Smith (rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it) remains submerged; he’s missing for a long time before a rescue worker dragging the lake finds him thanks to a mysterious, disembodied voice that tells him where to point his hook.
Pulled from the icy cold water, John is rushed to the hospital and his parents (Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas) are called in and told that his chances of survival are slim, and even if he does make it, the amount of time he spent without oxygen suggests he is very likely to suffer significant brain damage. Metz refuses to give up hope that he’ll be fine, putting her community’s faith in God to the test when all around her insist on being practical, her only ally in the struggle her church’s cool new pastor (Topher Grace) who stays by her side despite their past conflicts.
This entry in the genre of big-budget Christian-themed films really works hard to stretch one true-life incident over a two hour film, there aren’t nearly enough complications to justify the amount of dramatic turns that the story takes or the characters it requires to tell it; in place of dramatic twists we have a series of ridiculous deus ex machinas that show the Christian God to be a cosmic cash machine, Metz throws out a prayer and hospital machines immediately start pinging with the positive response.
Rather than telling a story about actual faith, which is the struggle to believe in God’s guarantees in a world that offers none, this film reduces Christian belief to a series of cheap tricks that never for a moment come off as credible, it’s basically The Ten Commandments without the awesome sets and visual effects.
It doesn’t help that Marcel Ruiz lacks charisma and Metz gives a flat performance, but were they hitting out of the park as performers it would still be a flimsy movie whose pandering insults its audience.
Academy Award Nomination: Best Original Song (“I’ll Stand By You”)