From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.
Despite powerful message, “Grace Card” doesn’t feel like real life
It’s tough to be too hard on a movie as sincere and well-meaning as “The Grace Card,” a micro-budget Christian-made and themed film that earnestly makes the case that the world would be a better place if people swapped bitterness, grief and racism for love, grace and forgiveness.
“The Grace Card” has its emotionally powerful moments, a mighty message and a strong supporting turn from Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. But the overwrought melodrama, predictable plotlines and carefully sanitized conflicts hamper the movie’s authenticity. It doesn’t consistently seem like real life, which ultimately undermines the message.
Set in Memphis, Tenn. — the setting of last year’s Oscar-nominated blockbuster “The Blind Side,” which also dealt with race issues and Christian themes – “The Grace Card” follows a white cop, Bill “Mac” McDonald (actor/“clean” comedian Michael Joiner), still churning with pain and anger 17 years after his 5-year-old son was killed by a car driven by a black drug dealer fleeing police.
Mac’s grief has thickened into bile-black bitterness and fractured his family. When his depressed wife Sara (Joy Parmer Moore) finally seeks help from a counselor (Cindy Hodge), he yells they can’t afford it. Their remaining son Blake (Rob Erickson), 17, is on a rebellious streak and haunted by the loss of a brother he can’t remember. When his dad finds drug paraphernalia in Blake’s room or learns he’s about flunk out of school, the teen can hear the “your brother wouldn’t have done this” even when it remains unsaid.
Mac gets passed over for promotion at work because of his seething disposition, and he takes exception when the sergeant’s job goes to affable black patrolman Sam Wright (Michael Higgenbottom), a gentle giant who pastors a small church on the weekends. To add insult to injury, Mac and Sam are paired up as partners until Sam’s transfer comes through.
The arrangement isn’t any easier on Sam, who finds his faith tested as Mac growls at him not to sing hymns during their patrols, goes harder on minority perpetrators than on whites and practically oozes racially-charged resentment. For the first time, easygoing Sam struggles with Christ’s command to love his enemies.
Sam seeks the support of his loving wife Debra (Dawntoya Thomason), who believes Mac has entered his life for a reason. Sam’s sage Grandpa George (Gossett Jr.) advises him to look for a chance to commit an act of grace that will not only help his partner but also serve as an example to his congregation. But grace is easier to receive than to give.
“The Grace Card” is the first film from director David G. Evans, a Memphis optometrist who started Gracework Pictures with his wife to make the movie. It was made for less than $500,000 and with the help of volunteers from Memphis’ Calvary Church, where Evans has been producing the passion play for years. The filmmakers’ passion and Gossett’s screen presence help “The Grace Card” overcome some of the limitations of a small budget and novice director.
“The Grace Card” is being marketed and released by Sony-owned Affirm Films and Provident Films and distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, the companies behind the Christian hits “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants.”
Like many faith-based films, “The Grace Card” feels a little too small for the big screen. Even inexperienced movie-goers won’t have any trouble predicting where “The Grace Card” will be played, and such care has been taken to keep the language and violence to church-friendly levels that Sam and Mac’s police work and interactions never ring quite true.
Although it is a Christian film, with better storytelling, “The Grace Card” might have made a better play for the hearts of those who aren’t already believers.