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Good girls are good girls for a reason. They’re always sweet, they stay out of trouble, and nothing bad ever touches their good names. But what happens when a good girl collides with a bad man? Yes, it does happen, and Loving the Bad Man is a rare film that tackles the results.
This faith-based drama sadly makes a few baddies of its own, including too much offensive language and violence that could have been avoided without sacrificing realism. For mature, older teens and adults who can approach such content with discernment, however, the strong Christian messages at the story’s core manage to shine through, forming a powerful illustration of love, forgiveness, and redemption.
Everyone likes Julie Thompson. She’s a conservative Christian young woman who walks the walk, spreading joy all around and trying to reach the unsaved for Christ through a gentle and appeasing witness. That’s no easy feat, either, when she comes from a home where neither her brother nor her parents are believers. Her family doesn’t understand or share Julie’s priorities in life, but the differences don’t cause too many problems.
That is, until her world is shattered. Caught with a ruptured tire in the middle of the night, a drunk, would-be helper turns into a rapist when he attacks Julie. Emotionally and physically scarred, Julie survives the attack and is able to identify the man who did it.
At first, Mike Conner doesn’t even remember that he raped a woman, so drunk he was at the time, and he’s stunned when the police come to his door. Even without a confession, there’s plenty of evidence for a conviction, and Mike winds up in prison with a twenty-year sentence.
Meanwhile, Julie faces many new challenges of her own. [SPOILER WARNING] Among them, is the discovery that the rape left her pregnant. Stalwart in her pro-life beliefs, Julie stands against even her own family’s insistence that she get an abortion and instead gives birth to the baby. With her family falling apart and her life irrevocably changed, Julie finds the strength to go on when she is reminded of the power of love and its connection with forgiveness. As a Christian, Julie remembers, she has been forgiven. She must, therefore, also forgive.
Armed with scriptural reminders of her responsibility to forgive and how to do so, she boldly determines to face her attacker, baby in tow. As her friends and family try to stop what they see as an insane and even wrong idea, Julie must hold firm to her faith and God’s guidance. In the end, those two things are what will turn what was meant for evil into the greatest, beautiful good.
Particularly in the world at large, Christian movies often have the reputation of being light, unrealistic fluff compared with “real” (meaning secular) films. Undeserved and wildly inaccurate, that idea incurs a crippling blow with Loving the Bad Man.
Aiming to disturb and seize viewers’ attention, the film does just that with a plot concept that is as bold as its central character’s forgiving actions. Not many films, even non-Christian ones, confront so disturbing a crime as rape. This movie is clearly not afraid of the topic, as it starts before the attack takes place and shows the events leading up to it. Though most viewers will already know the film’s main storyline when they start watching, director/writer Peter Engert uses that knowledge to advantage by building suspense as to when and how the horrible event will occur.
The build-up of intensity is enhanced by the film’s structure, which hops between Julie’s and Mike’s points of view. Engert uses this technique effectively several times throughout the film to increase the speed or suspense of climactic moments. The choppiness of cutting away from scenes to show what is happening simultaneously to a different character is here a boon that covers and compensates for some weaknesses in production quality.
As a low-budget project, Loving is missing a high polish to the cinematography. The acting is also hit-and-miss, with the leads showing some talent, but giving inconsistent performances that dim the impact of some scenes. At other moments, however, these same actors come through with moving portrayals. Arturo Fernandez is more solid in his role as Mike than is Christine Kelly as Julie, but Fernandez’s work suffers in moments that require him to be more cheerful than his character’s usual angry persona or to talk genuinely about Christianity.
The lack of authenticity in Kelly’s performance, in particular, reduces (but doesn’t negate) the resonance of a well-written central character and story. The script itself demonstrates skilled writing that adds realistic dialogue, clever structure choices, thematic depth, and highly nuanced characters to a knock-out concept.
Engert and his co-writers also make a courageous choice to give almost equal time and emphasis to Mike’s side of the story. This unusual approach allows viewers the rare opportunity to see a criminal, even a rapist, as more than an inhuman monster or a statistic. Mike is given the chance to be shown as a person, one with motivations and circumstances that help to explain, but not excuse his evil actions. Thus, viewers learn that a criminal who has done unthinkable wrong is really another human being in need of God’s forgiveness, just as much as Julie herself.
This theme of forgiveness, inseparably entwined with love, takes center stage in the plethora of positive messages Loving conveys. Other themes include family (with an emphasis on the relationship between fathers and their children), compassionate friendship, and a dramatic pro-life stance. The tough issue of hypocrisy among Christians is also tackled through Julie’s personal journey.
Though seemingly a perfect Christian, who makes conscious efforts every day to reach unbelievers, Julie’s recovery from the attack involves more than facing the rapist—she also has to confront her true self. With the help of a Christian friend, Cole, Julie begins to see that she performed many of her “good” actions because doing them made her feel better about herself. She was making attempts to save the lost in a misguided attempt to redeem herself, or at the least be well-liked. But along with the realization that she must forgive Mike comes the conviction that, no matter the consequences, she must forgive and do what is right for God, not herself.
The script, however, falters slightly in the handling of this admirable message. Before and shortly after the attack, Julie is universally sweet to all she meets, with one glaring exception. She treats Cole, a co-worker who attempts to ask her out on a date, initially with coldness that borders on rudeness and later with a misdirected contempt that is decidedly unkind and offensive. This behavior is in striking contrast to Julie’s character as she is otherwise presented.
An apparent contradiction and, therefore, flaw in the depiction of Julie, this oxymoronic element is perhaps intended to show the shallowness of Julie’s usual angelic demeanor. If that is the case, her rude behavior with Cole is too overdone to be believable, and the point isn’t made because Julie never repents of her treatment of him even when she later realizes her hidden, wrong motivations.
While slight, this misstep is magnified in other, more potentially damaging content issues. The number and type of foul words used in the film is minor compared to most secular PG-13 films. Loving, however, is a Christian movie that should be setting the standards for purity, not lowering itself to match the works of the fallen world. As such, it is disappointing to see that the filmmakers chose to include obscenities like “h---”, “d---”, and “b------”, as well as the profane use of “oh, my g--”.
There is more than enough realism in this story and characters without the inclusion of offensive language, and the filmmakers’ attempt to avoid more severe or frequent language shows they have the creativity to tell a real story without the crutch. Choosing a middle ground of including some foul content also calls attention to the fact that there isn’t a more “realistic” amount, leaving the film with one foot in each camp—a strategically weak position.
Violence is built-in to the story’s pivotal event, so perhaps it’s no surprise that additional violence is a factor in this story. The filmmakers wisely do not show the rape itself, cutting away before the actual crime is committed (though they show Julie struggling as Mike grabs and drags her). What is left to the imagination is still horrifying, making this content alone reason enough to make sure children don’t watch the film.
In addition to the attack of Julie, there are several fist-fights and brawls in the film. The worst of the violence comes with numerous stabbings and killings that take place in the prison where Mike is incarcerated. The stabbings are not shown in graphic detail, but viewers do see blood and the faces of people as they’re dying. One killing is particularly disturbing as the story leads up to it slowly, letting viewers know what is coming and hope for some prevention that never occurs.
This event, however, is intended to combine with the rest of the film to demonstrate God’s providence in all things—life, death, and even rape. Yet, as Loving concludes, the movie’s greatest stumble comes to light in its failure to present the way to salvation and definition of Christian regeneration clearly enough that a nonbelieving viewer would understand. Non-Christians watching the film however, will likely still be impacted enough to have questions about Christianity.
Loving the Bad Man presents believers, on the other hand, with several challenging, and some comforting, messages. Among the latter is the reminder that, though being a “good” Christian is no guarantee that one will not encounter pain and tragedy, belonging to God does mean He will bring true, ultimate good out of the worst this “bad” world has to offer.
Check out these similar titles:
Caught (World Wide Pictures, 1986)
The Imposter (Serendipitous Films, 2008)
The Hiding Place (World Wide Pictures, 1975)