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Is there hope for kids living in the inner-city? Is there a point in trying to turn around the lives of young people whose lives are defined by crime? Statistics and a worldly point of view suggest the answer is no. Or, some might argue that hope can only come through education or athletic scholarships. Set Apart approaches these questions from a different perspective and shows that even the roughest kids can change and lives can be saved through the love of God.
Four inner-city kids, one 11-years-old and the others teenagers, are at turning points in their lives. Anthony, the youngest, is determined to join the gang to which his older brother, Marcus, belongs. Marcus doesn’t want Anthony to join, but he has to fight to prevent the rest of the gang members from indoctrinating his little brother, even as Marcus becomes increasingly lost in the world of crime. For Rey, survival has come to mean lying, stealing, and always pretending to be someone he is not. After finding her entire family murdered, Korina no longer cares about survival at all.
The film delicately handles these mature themes, finding ways to communicate the drama and tension of life in the streets without showing graphic content. The few fist fights that occur on the streets and elsewhere later in the film are also depicted realistically, but not carried to the point of becoming bloody or excessive. In addition, the street kids’ dialogue throughout the film is accurate to real-life, yet the filmmakers exercise their creativity to avoid having the characters use offensive language on-screen.
On the brink of pivotal moments in their lives, the four young people are noticed by John and Michele Gunn, a Christian ministerial couple who operate a non-profit outreach program in the city, called Power Company Kids Club. This couple and their ministry are based on the real-life founders of the actual Power Company Kids Club, based in Michigan. While reaching out to many kids, John and Michele realize that the timing has become crucial for these particular four youths. In an effort to impact Marcus, Anthony, Korina, and Rey before it’s too late, John and Michele approach John’s brother about taking the kids out west.
John’s brother, Randy Gunn, also has a ministry, but it is far different in location. Randy and his wife, Heidi, (both played by the actual Randy and Heidi Gunn) run GunnPoint Music and Ministries, a non-profit organization that reaches cowboys and their families out West through music concerts and mounted shooting contests. Like the Power Company Kids Club, GunnPoint Music and Ministries is a real-life ministry. Though they don’t usually work with young people, Randy and Heidi agree to take the at-risk kids to their ranch for the summer.
The adventure begins for these young people as they arrive at the ranch and encounter open spaces, country beauty, and harder work than they have never known. Here, they meet the ranch staff, including the no-nonsense cook, Charlie, and the suspicious ranch-hand, J.T. Played by accomplished actor Richard Roundtree, J.T. protests the idea to bring the kids to the ranch, believing that their presence will destroy the Gunn’s reputation for integrity and ministry. Nevertheless, J.T. still helps with the kids and even puts himself in harm’s way to defend Rey on more than one occasion.
As the kids learn about horses and the cowboy’s lifestyle, they learn even more about themselves and God. Thanks to the overt witness, both in actions and words, of the adults on the ranch, the troubled youths are brought face-to-face with Christianity in action. In several scenes, these Christian adults have conversations with the kids about God, choices, and the possibilities of a better future. These moments, so often mishandled or too forced in Christian films, are presented with an unusual realism and forthrightness that allows the Christian message to shine through without a tinge of cliché.
The Christian adults also set themselves apart in their lifestyles. The kids see a godly marriage in the relationship of Randy and Heidi, who demonstrate a loving, romantic, and friendship-based marriage that is rarely seen in modern films. Along with the Gunns, the other adults on the ranch live out their faith by showing kindness, respect, and honesty. Before the kids even get to the ranch, they are apprised of the ranch rules, which include no swearing or drinking. The adults live out these rules and encourage the kids to do the same.
Like many Christian films, Set Apart suffers a bit from poor acting. With the exception of the all-too-brief moments when skilled actor John Schneider is on-screen and Richard Roundtree’s solid performance, the film primarily features amateur or nonprofessional actors. The cast’s lack of experience undeniably reduces the quality and impact of some scenes, though it’s at a level that will still entertain most viewers.
Despite the performance limitations, Set Apart continues the rise in production levels that has been occurring in the world of Christian films. The basics that used to elude Christian filmmakers are well-in-hand for this film, with solid camerawork and cinematography, skilled sound design, and a fitting soundtrack (comprised of hip-hop and country/Gospel music songs).
Because of the mature themes in this film, Set Apart isn’t appropriate for young children. Adults and teens, however, will find much that will entertain, instruct, and inspire in this story. Can inner-city kids be saved? This film’s answer is an emphatic yes. Through the message of the Gospel, even the worst of them can be set apart for a brighter future.
Check out these similar titles:
The Ride (World Wide Pictures, 1997)
Something to Sing About (WWP, 2000)
Maggie’s Passage (2nd Fiddle Entertainment, 2009)