For a re­view of “All Saints,”

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The bread and but­ter of the faith- based film genre is real- life sto­ries, usu­ally in­volv­ing mir­a­cle heal­ings or vi­sions of Je­sus him­self, and of­ten times both.

But the film­mak­ers of faith- based projects have been ex­pand­ing their purview, in terms of genre, and in telling sto­ries that usu­ally de­pict a con­tem­po­rary, in­clu­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Chris­tian­ity. The story be­hind “All Saints,” writ­ten by Steve Ar­mour and di­rected by Steve Gomer, man­ages to en­com­pass all of the above.

The line be­tween fic­tion and non- fic­tion is de­lib­er­ately blurred in “All Saints,” which tells the true story of a Ten­nessee church res­ur­rected by un­likely sav­iors. The film was shot on lo­ca­tion at the real All Saints Church in Smyrna, Ten­nessee, and many mem­bers of the church play them­selves on­screen. John Cor­bett puts his folksy charm to the role of the Rev. Michael Spur­lock, who is tasked with putting a dy­ing church out of its mis­ery, its mort­gage as­tro­nom­i­cal and mem­ber­ship dwin­dling. It’s all set to be­come a big box store, but with a vi­sion from God and a few dozen Burmese im­mi­grants, Michael re­verses course, re­viv­ing the in­sti­tu­tion froma cer­tain death.

Nel­son Lee plays Ye Win, an eth­ni­cally Karen man from Burma, a refugee from bru­tal civil war who has just ar­rived with a group of fam­i­lies in the United States. Lack­ing sup­port and re­sources, he turns up at All Saints Church. When the needy Karen land on his doorstep, the re­bel­lious Michael de­cides that he speaks to a higher power than money— and that God has in­structed him to plant a farm on the church land to feed the Karen peo­ple and pay the church’s mort­gage.

“All Saints” is rather fas­ci­nat­ing in its re­la­tion­ship to faith and re­li­gion. It’s not so much about scrip­ture as it is about com­mu­nity. The peo­ple who need com­mu­nity the most cling to the church not nec­es­sar­ily for the prayers, but for the peo­ple. Although there are a fewwell- placed Bi­ble verses, this story is about the pur­pose that a church serves to bring dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple to­gether and of­fer com­mon goals, sal­va­tion and col­lec­tive en­deav­ors.

The cine­matic ex­e­cu­tion of “All Saints” is ser­vice­able at best. It’s stilted and awk­ward at times, with too much dead air hang­ing around, and of­ten the stakes and roller coaster of ups and downs in the script seem out of step with the emo­tion on screen. There are high highs, low lows, and last- minute saves that seem amped up for cine­matic pur­poses. Visu­ally, it’s noth­ing to write home about, but bound­ary- push­ing cin­ema is not the goal here.

Cor­bett is im­pas­sioned as Michael, even when his shaggy-dog sen­si­bil­ity doesn’t quite fit this part. Lee gives the best per­for­mance in the film as the stoic and striv­ing Ye Win, search­ing not even for the Amer­i­can dream, but sim­ply a place to call home. He bonds with cranky Viet­nam vet For­rest ( Barry Corbin) through their shared war ex­pe­ri­ences and of­fers For­rest the thing he needed the most: a friend.

“All Saints” tar­gets its faith­ful au­di­ence with a tale of Chris­tian com­mu­nity that in­cludes peo­ple of all races, na­tion­al­i­ties, cul­tures and creeds com­ing to­gether in ser­vice to each other. It’s a sweet story, even if the sto­ry­telling fal­ters and aes­thetic pack­ag­ing leaves some­thing to be de­sired.

“All Saints,” a Jake Giles Netter re­lease, is rated PG for the­matic el­e­ments. Run­ning time: 108 min­utes.

“Crown Heights”

One of the most fun­da­men­tal foun­da­tions of the le­gal sys­tem— know­nas the Black­stone ra­tio be­cause of 18th cen­tury English ju­rist Wil­liam Black­stone— is that it is bet­ter for 10 guilty per­sons to get away free than for one in­no­cent man to suf­fer. Even with that guid­ing prin­ci­ple, there are an es­ti­mated 120,000 in­no­cent peo­ple in prison.

“Crown Heights” looks at one such case.

The film from di­rec­tor Matt Ruskin (“Booster”) is based on the true story of Colin Warner, a na­tive of Trinidad liv­ing near Crown Heights, who was tried and con­victed in 1980 for a mur­der he didn’t com­mit. It was only through the re­lent­less ef­forts of his best friend to get the sen­tence over­turned that Warner be­came a free man after more than two decades in prison.

Ruskin, who also wrote the script, does an ex­cel­lent job tak­ing the story from the ar­rest to the re­lease. He pro­vides great de­tail of how the po­lice were so de­ter­mined to solve the mur­der, they ma­nip­u­lated tes­ti­mony and man­u­fac­tured eye­wit­ness ac­counts. The film also fol­lows Carl King ( Nnamdi Aso­mugha) as he takes any small open­ing to seek out the truth in re­gards to his child­hood friend. His ob­ses­sion with get­ting his friend re­leased pushes him to the point where it even threat­ens his own mar­riage.

All of this takes place as Warner ( Lakeith Stan­field) — whose big­gest crime had been be­ing a two- bit thief — must deal­with the bru­tal life be­hind bars. It’s an emo­tional and phys­i­cal jour­ney that tries to change Warner but he sur­vives by cling­ing to the un­de­ni­able truth that he did not com­mit the crime for which he­was found guilty.

Stan­field’s per­for­mance is the solid foundation for the film. He’s re­quired to go from a wide- eyed in­no­cent to a man with no en­ergy to keep fight­ing and Stan­field re­sponds with a per­for­mance that is so rich in hon­esty that the only per­son who could have done the role with more au­then­tic­ity would have been the real Warner.

Equally strong is Aso­mugha who brings a quiet courage to his per­for­mance. He makes it very easy to be­lieve that his char­ac­ter would be so mo­ti­vated by his frus­tra­tions with the le­gal sys­tem and his fears that an­other such a trav­esty could be­fall him or other in­no­cent peo­ple that no ob­sta­cle in his search for truth and jus­tice will make him waiver. What Ruskin has pre­sented is a story that is as com­pelling as it is nec­es­sary.

But­the film does need­more con­text. There’s only a quick glimpse of Warner’s life be­fore his ar­rest and that doesn’t give the au­di­ence a broad enough por­trait of the man. More de­tails about the di­ver­sity of the com­mu­nity where the events hap­pened, what was go­ing on in the New York po­lit­i­cal world at the time or even some facts about fam­ily his­tory would have given the story more depth.

Ruskin’s di­rec­tion and story are a lit­tle rushed as he skips through 20 years of his­tory and events. He does toss in a few scenes that point to the changes in po­lit­i­cal views as to the ne­ces­sity to get tougher on crime. But none of that is mixed well enough with Warner’s story.

The di­rec­tor also rushes to get to the end. It’s only through a pa­role hear­ing that it’s re­vealed Warner has had to take on a man­tel of vi­o­lence to sur­vive. An even big­ger lack of back­ground has to do with Warner’s love and mar­riage to An­toinette ( Natalie Paul). Their re­la­tion­ship is touch­ing but never fully ex­plored.

As for the gen­eral look of the pro­duc­tion, Ruskin’s ap­proach is very ba­sic and he never ven­tures to push the cam­era into more in­ter­est­ing an­gles. He me­thod­i­cally links to­gether the nec­es­sary scenes to tell the story. There’s noth­ing that man­dates an al­ter­na­tive look is nec­es­sary es­pe­cially when the story is this in­ter­est­ing. “Crown Heights” ends up be­ing a film that will cause con­ver­sa­tions as soon as it’s seen but doesn’t have the vis­ual siz­zle to give it a more last­ing feel.

The fact that “Crown Heights” is cast­ing light on such a hor­rid mis­car­riage of jus­tice is worth praise. And if that wasn’t enough, the pro­duc­tion gets a boost from stand­out per­for­mances by Stan­field and Aso­mugha. Both are enough to make “Crown Heights” wor­thy of the time and at­ten­tion it is bring­ing toa story that needs to be told.

“Crown Heights,” an IFC Films re­lease, is rated R for lan­guage, nu­dity and vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 99 min­utes.


Lakeith Stan­field, left, and Natalie Paulin star in “Crown Heights.”

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