Opening this weekend in limited release, "The Second Chance" is Hollywood's latest attempt to build a bridge between the secular and Christian communities by offering contemporary, inspirational films that address real life issues with solutions offered from a Christian perspective.
Starring contemporary Christian singer Michael W. Smith as Pastor Ethan Jenkins, an associate pastor at his father's mega-church "The Rock," "The Second Chance" is reminiscent of two recent films, last year's unexpected hit "The Gospel" and the Howie Mandel film "Crown Heights."
In "The Second Chance," Smith portrays a pastor that could easily be seen as himself. Pastor Ethan is an attractive, financially prosperous young minister with a beautiful fiance', a strong music ministry and a book having just been published. He is, according to his own board of trustees of "The Rock," a "rock" star who is brash, spoiled and undisciplined.
Each year, "The Rock" offers a fund-drive to support its inner-city mission, Second Chance Community Church, the spiritual community where Pastor Ethan's father started everything during the 60's civil rights movement. "Second Chance" is now a run-down church in a run-down, crime-ridden part of the city pastored by Jake Sanders (jeff obafemi carr), an equally brash, aggressive pastor who sat side by side with Ethan's father in the 60's and who has, at times, seemingly become as hardened as those he serves.
"The Second Chance" is, essentially, the journey of these two pastors to give each other a second chance along with their communities. When Pastor Ethan is called by the Board of Trustees of "The Rock" to serve in "Second Chance Community Church", he does so with great reluctance and bitterness. Likewise, Pastor Jake has grown weary of those who believe that it is enough to open pocketbooks without providing the heart and soul of compassion and service.
"The Second Chance" is unashamed of its Christianity, and yet is not a film I would consider to be preachy in its presentation. It is a film about two pastors whose lives intertwine, connect and this connection reinforces faith and empowers the men to become more faithful, effective pastors.
Michael W. Smith is surprisingly effective as Pastor Ethan, particularly in displaying the discomfort of a young, up and coming pastor who suddenly has the very roots of his faith challenged in dramatic ways. Smith's stage presence works wonders here, and while he seemed, at times, uncomfortable with surrendering to the full emotions of the more intense scenes he, nonetheless, was quite effective in portraying a pastor in transition.
Likewise, jeff obafemi carr is a revelation as Pastor Jake, a tough-talking inner-city preacher whose idealism has, at times, been replaced by cynicism and whose courageousness in confronting injustice often becomes foolishness. carr, who uses all lower case in his name as a commitment to humility, makes his feature film debut here after serving as a commentator on National Public Radio.
Popular Christian rock singer Steve Taylor, who quit music in 2003 to focus on film, directs "The Second Chance" with a strong commitment to showing the harsh realities an inner-city church faces. The end result is that rare Christian film that garners a PG-13 rating for its realistic portrayals of violence and conflict.
Taylor, much like was done in "The Gospel," shows the challenges and benefits of life in a spiritual community and is unafraid to poke a little fun at the Christian church in the process. Yet, Taylor is also blessed to have a script (which he co-wrote with Chip Arnold and Ben Pearson) that offers rich, subtle characters down to the most minor roles. Each of the supporting characters seems to have their moment to shine, from young brothers heartbreakingly supporting each other as the youngest one tries to leave a gang to an older "slow" White male who serves "Second Chance Community Church" in a maintenance type role who is absolutely mesmerizing in a scene where he seeks forgiveness for having wrongfully judged one of the teens in the church.
As one could expect from a film featuring Michael W. Smith, the music is wonderful here including original songs from the likes of Smith, Third Day, Ruben Studdard and John Legend. Likewise, the production design is appropriately gritty and urban, without ever seeming condescending.
The ending, which I certainly won't share here, is the perfect close to a film about the faith journey. As obstacles are confronted, biases and issues revealed and conflicts resolved we see Pastor Jake, Pastor Ethan and his father all standing together in the most unique of situations. The ending isn't about a "happy ending" or about any man-made resolution. The ending of "The Second Chance" is about three pastors who surrender to God and receive their second chance to rediscover faith.