Note: After reading his review of “Champion,” the author invites you to learn more about “Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing,” a new book that compares the writings of C. S. Lewis with the music of U2 in a life-changing journey through grief, joy, and longing for God. Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
If the faith-based cinematic world consistently does one stand-out thing with their projects, it’s their exploration of the theme of forgiveness. Now, yes, I know, I’m not talking about Christopher Nolan-level art house cinema where you have a stunning tapestry of subtext and archetype symbolism placed layer upon layer, seen only and unspoken. No, the faith-based genre is still firmly planted in the commercial film world that recall the wholesome family-style movies that Hollywood used to release more often, especially in the ’80s and ’90s (i.e. Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Flubber, Santa Clause, and many many others.) Hollywood has gotten so dark and serious. Maybe they should heed the Joker’s question: “Why so serious?”
So faith-based movies fill a gap that Hollywood has steadily abandoned: family-friendly movies with straight-forward storytelling and a clear message that doesn’t require a degree in advanced screenwriting and filmmaking to understand.
Does that make it any less valuable or meaningful to society? Why no, it doesn’t, because I’ve seen how these kind of films–as commercial and general audience as they may be–really can change a moviegoer’s life.
And with the faith-based world, they consistently articulate Christ’s message of loving your enemies and forgiving those who hurt you and doing so without any strings attached. This is a theme that Christians filmmakers have taken up with enthusiasm, and it is a theme that our culture desperately–DESPERATELY–needs. Here are just a few off the top of my head that have all dealt with the complex problem of learning to forgive someone who has hurt you in the worst way imaginable:
- A Question of Faith
- The Shack
- War Room
- The Song
In walks the racing-themed film “Champion.” (Or should I say “in drives?”)
IMDB sums up the plot as follows:
“In the supercharged world of dirt track racing, a single mistake causes the lives of two men to change forever. One must fight for his family, the other must fight to forgive.”
Directed by Judd Brannon (“War Room”), written by Missy Reedy and Sarah Inabnit in their debut film as screenwriters, “Champion” stars Cameron Arnett (“Meet The Browns”), Andrew Cheney (“Beyond the Mask”), Gary Graham (“Star Trek: Renegades”), Robert Amaya (“Mom’s Night Out”) and Faith Renee Kennedy (“Rectify”)–just to name a few.
What made the film work for me were three things in particular:
- The great racing footage. That’s not easy. I imagine the crew had quite a few lengthy days to get all of those quality racetrack shots, especially some of the more, ah, “violent” parts. (Won’t give any spoilers away.) It was intense stuff, and it set the tone for the film in the first act and drew you into the story.
- Everyone in the cast did a solid job, but the performance by Gary Graham as the grieving father and the performance by child actor Faith Renee Kennedy as Gracie Weathers really tugged at my heart and added that extra layer of emotional depth for me. Of course, the writing and the actors surrounding each role in each scene and the directing all contribute to that–it’s a team effort–but Graham and Kennedy were highlights for me personally. Andrew Cheney did a nice job of tackling a different kind of forgiveness theme: self-forgiveness, which can requires a strange form of humility and can be much harder sometimes than forgiving others. Can we forgive ourselves when we mess up? Cheney navigated that journey nicely.
- The balancing of the storylines. As multiple threads run in parallel, they feed off each other as each storyline tackles the theme of forgiveness in a different way, the momentum and emotion builds and they have nice pay-offs when the film comes to a conclusion.
Bottom-line: If you’re looking for a good family movie that doesn’t have all the Hollywood PG-13/R gunk but also contains some heavier, more meaningful themes of unconditional, radical Christ-like forgiveness (that Hollywood doesn’t often consider, sadly), “Champion” delivers.