The story of Richard Wallrath inspires.
The story of Richard Wallrath inspires even more because he, director Christopher Cain and co-screenwriters Josh Fasulo and Hoffman have chosen to present the story in a filtered yet surprisingly honest and direct way in the film Deep in the Heart, a faith-based film that spends as much time testifying as it does simply preaching.
Wallrath was a Texas husband and father with a serious drinking problem (HINT: Alcoholic) and an even more frightening penchant for beating on his kids and/or wife when they inevitably would cross his path. As isn't completely unexpected, one day he finally goes too far before storming out of his house and taking himself Otis-style to dry out at the local jail. When he returns, his wife, children and a substantial amount of his belongings are all gone.
The story could have ended there. In fact, it does for a lot of folks. However, for the real life Wallrath this "bottoming out" became his call to straighten out his life even if nothing in his life was ever quite right again. Wallrath, played here with humanity and conviction by Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite), started from the bottom and fumbled his way along for awhile but ended up with a decent job and a 12-step path back to sobriety. Slowly, he re-established connections with his children and when the opportunity to buy the window company for which he was working he went for it and brought his two sons in as partners.
The real kicker? Over time, his company became increasingly successful and Wallrath, who in many ways had failed his children early on, ended up becoming the biggest individual donor to Texas 4-H and FFA ever by providing educational scholarships that have continued to this day. Founded in 2006, the Richard Wallrath Educational Foundation funds 142 $10,000 educational scholarships ANNUALLY to high school students who enroll in Texas universities. He has donated $3.5 million alone to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Christopher Cain, who directed mainstream Hollywood films like Young Guns and the Pure Country films, allows Deep in the Heart to go deeper into the horrors of alcoholism than many faith-based directors will dare go. Perhaps that's why Cain had the good fortune to attract such a solid cast as Gries and, even more unexpectedly, Val Kilmer as a mysterious spiritual guide of sorts for the troubled Wallrath. Those with a good memory for a movie trivia will remember that both Gries and Kilmer appeared together years ago in the underrated comedy Real Genius, and while their appearances here don't quite have that spark they do have a pretty remarkable emotional resonance.
While there's no question that Deep in the Heart is a film grounded deep within faith, Cain avoids preachiness with the film and Wallrath's faith has more of a lived in feeling to it than a "shout it from the rooftops" kind of feeling. In fact, one could possibly argue that the film's religious scenes are its weaker scenes as they occasionally feel like they were added more for the purpose of attracting the faith-based audience and the story itself would have been enough to do so.
Gries has always been an under-appreciated actor, and he does a wonderful job here both in the earlier scenes that are safely (as in PG-13) yet honestly portrayed. Gries' Wallrath is a rather frightening man early on and I give kudos to Cain for allowing some of the more harrowing moments to at least be glimpsed with the intensity needed to make them convincing. It's a rare and gifted actor who can be convincing as a raging drunk and as a healing and recovering family man. Gries does a remarkable job at both ends of the spectrum.
Kilmer's presence is similarly convincing even if the character does feel a bit off-balance at times, while D.B. Sweeney (Eight Men Out, The Cutting Edge), Elaine Hendrix (The Parent Trap), James Haven (Monster's Ball, Breaking Dawn) and Rheagan Wallace (Television's 7th Heaven) all shine in supporting roles.
Deep in the Heart is now available at most Christian retailers along with a slew of online retailers. The film, perhaps more than anything, seeks to be a reminder that faith always offers a second chance.
Richard Wallrath would undoubtedly agree.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic