For a review of “All Saints,”
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.
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.”