“He found the secret, that if you want to find your life, you have to give it away.” - Shane Claiborne
Raised on a tree farm in Indiana by a man weathered by life and distant in nature, Rich Mullins wrestled his entire life with crippling insecurities, alcohol, depression and more while also being recognized as an artistic genius who rose to Christian music fame and fortune before walking away from it to live on a Navajo reservation and dying at the age 41 in an auto accident.
Ragamuffin: The True Story of Rich Mullins is, indeed, the true story of Mullins, a Jesus freak with a rebellious streak a mile wide who dealt with the weaknesses of his life with an honesty and a transparency that is far too often missing from today's churches and today's artists. He was determined to live into his faith in a way that was transcendent. It wasn't normal, really. Mullins, for example, paid himself a fair salary based upon what the average American made despite having a far greater income from his music.
Instead, he gave it away. He gave it to charities. He gave it to churches.
He strived to make music from his heart and, despite the pressure that comes with becoming a musical success, he steadfastly refused to make music simply to be popular.
Mullins was real. Mullins was honest. Mullins was faithful. Mullins was the kind of guy who'd probably grimace if you even mentioned the idea of making a movie based upon his life, yet his life is exactly the kind of life that deserves to have a movie made of it.
While he doesn't exactly bear a striking resemblance to Mullins, Canadian Michael Koch is revelatory in capturing Mullins' humanity and spirit and vulnerability and incredible musical talent. A music teacher in Southwest Michigan, Koch is making his feature film debut here and does so in rather remarkable fashion by not only giving a marvelous acting performance but by also performing the songs himself.
Too often in the Christian community, we seem to prefer our glossy and family friendly tales with feel good/inspirational storylines and a greeting card sentimentality. While there is a growing movement among faith-based filmmakers to present more realistic stories, there's still something that frightens us about "real."
My guess is that very few, with the possible exception of hardcore Mullins fans, really know and understand this side of Rich Mullins. It will be interesting to watch the film's reception as it winds its way through a nationwide, church-by-church and theater-by-theater screening tour that will bring it face-to-face with a diverse population of faith-based moviegoers. The film, which did receive the Dove Foundation's Faith-Based Seal due to its strong redemptive message, may make some Christian moviegoers squirm just a bit because of its honest, but far from graphic, depictions of Mullins' vices and everyday challenges.
In addition to Koch's fine performance, the film's co-writer/director David Leo Schultz shines as Sam, Wolfgang Bodison is strong as Bryan, and the rest of the cast proves to be a strong ensemble including James Kyson, Mel Fair, Carson Aune, Cameron Goodman, Elizabeth Anne Roberts, and Michelle Keller among others. Schultz is yet another Indiana native for the film and an Anderson University graduate,
D.P. Ryan Bodie's lensing is top notch, while Sam Stewart's original music companions the film quite well and David Holecheck edits the film in such a way that looks and moments are allowed to linger for maximum effect.
Much of Ragamuffin is told in a flashback format, an approach that can appear gimmicky and disruptive yet an approach that Schultz uses to tremendous effect here. I suppose it helps knowing, however, that a key figure in these flashbacks is a DJ played by Rich's real-life brother, Randy Mullins.
On a weekend when Son of God has opened in 3,000 theaters nationwide, it remains disappointing that Ragamuffin must be content to be on a city-by-city distribution journey.
Though, on the flip side, there's a part of me that thinks that Rich himself would have it no other way. After all, he cared far more about the people than the popularity and it's hard not to think that he would have completely embraced going on such a grassroots, inspired, and heartfelt tour.
For more information on Ragamuffin, visit the Ragamuffin website to get information and tour dates.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic