“For it is by grace you have been saved …” Ephesians 2:8 (NIV)
Mac (Actor/Comedian Michael Joiner) is a bitter and angry cop trying, but mostly failing, to repress the memory of a son killed many years earlier. His wife, Sarah, tries without success to get him to pay some attention to his surviving son, Blake, but Mac is consumed by anger and a growing racism since his son was killed by an African-American criminal speeding away from the scene of a crime. When he's assigned a new partner, African-American cop and part-time pastor Sam (Michael Higgenbottom), and a new near tragedy strikes that almost costs him his remaining son, Mac is forced to make a decision - Will his rage lead him away from God forever or will he finally turn to God for help?
The Grace Card is the first film from Memphis based Graceworks Pictures, the vision of Dr. David Evans, an an optometrist who also serves as the film's executive producer and director. Graceworks has partnered with Calvary Pictures, a church-based film ministry modeled after Sherwood Pictures (Facing the Giants, Fireproof) developed by Calvary, a Church of the Nazarene in Cordova, Tennessee and is being distributed nationwide by Samuel Goldwyn Co. beginning February 25th, 2011.
The Grace Card is the latest in a few recent Christian films to adopt a more authentic life view that acknowledges that sometimes, no matter how great our faith, bad things really do happen to good people and as the church we have a responsibility to love one another, forgive one another and extend grace to one another. While certainly no one will mistake The Grace Card for an action-packed Denzel Washington film, the film is surprisingly gritty and carries with it a PG-13 rating largely due to its mature themes and mild scenes of violence. If compared to a Sherwood Pictures production, The Grace Card would be much closer to Sherwood's last film, Fireproof, than their breakthrough film Facing the Giants, in that this film is unquestionably a Christ-centered film that approaches societal issues through the lens of Jesus Christ. With its unabashed devotion to faith, The Grace Card's potential for a mainstream hit seems minimal yet its success within the faith-based community that hungers for quality filmmaking should be assured.
While The Grace Card does occasionally show signs of its modest budget, estimated at $200,000, the folks at Graceworks and Calvary clearly have the same knack as the folks at Sherwood in recruiting talented and passionate people as part of their cast and crew. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have an established comic/actor in your cast and, well, there's that Oscar/Emmy winner who signed on as well.
While he's more known for his stand-up comedy, Michael Joiner is rock solid as a man who is so consumed by grief that he sabotages his personal and professional life nearly to the point of implosion. The tension between Mac and his family is palpable, and when he's assigned an African-American partner one can practically feel the rage spew forth.
In his cinematic debut, Michael Higgenbottom also shines as the man who has a few unresolved issues of his own, most notably a growing lack of his own sense of call between his work in the pulpit as a preacher within a dwindling congregation and his seemingly more successful work as a police officer on the streets. Higgenbottom's Sam knows that he is called into grace and forgiveness, but he unquestionably struggles himself with Mac's open hostility and racism. It is only when his Grandpa George (Louis Gossett, Jr.) gets involved, that the road to forgiveness begins to be built.
As is frequently true in lower budget films, supporting players are a bit more hit-and-miss, however, The Grace Card far more hits than misses with Joy Moore, an elementary school teacher by background, as Mac's long-suffering wife and Rob Erickson, as his son, proving particularly impressive in their feature film debuts. Gossett, who has been known at times to overpower his smaller projects, blends in beautifully here and gives one of the film's finer performances.
Veteran screenwriter Howard Klausner, who also penned Space Cowboys, does a wonderful job of weaving together the "real world" and the faith aspects of The Grace Card into a film that lives and breathes its faith comfortably and believably. Klausner infuses just the right doses of humor, heart and a few subtle twists along the way.
D.P. John Paul Clark lenses the film beautifully, capturing a truly beautiful Memphis and giving the film a look and feel that easily transcends its modest budget. In his feature film directing debut, Evans has an obvious gift for coaxing top notch performances from both the professional and amateur actors while also exhibiting a solid sense of pacing and framing.
With Christian cinema really coming into its own these days, it's refreshing to see major Hollywood studios recognizing that the faith-based audience will show up in theatres when a quality film hits the market. Samuel Goldwyn Co. has always been a strong advocate for faith-based, inspiring and affirming films and one can only hope that Christian audiences will reward their loyalty to the market by hitting theatres when The Grace Card arrives on February 25th. For more information on The Grace Card, visit the film's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic