...shining light on the media, one review at a time
For most middle-class Americans, racism might not seem like that big of an issue anymore. After all, the U.S. has made great strides in more peaceable race relations in recent decades. But are things really as amicable as we might like to think?
The Grace Card challenges these assumptions by showing a typical modern inner-city community—a world in which glasses aren’t so rose-colored and black, white, or tan are instead the first things people see. In a strong, emotionally moving first project from a new Christian filmmaking team, The Grace Card reveals the only real solution to not only racism, but any relationship plagued by resentment and hate—a counterattack of God’s grace.
Mac McDonald didn’t start out as a racist. He wasn’t ignorant. He wasn’t filled with hate. But then the person he loved most was tragically taken from him. It was an accident, people told Mac, but to him the incident was the fault of the drug-dealing minority who delivered the fatal blow and the God who let it happen. In the years that followed the tragedy, Mac’s experience as a police officer only served to confirm his negative opinion of racial minorities and increase the bitterness that consumed him.
When Mac is partnered with Sam Wright, an African-American pastor and outspoken Christian who just superseded him for a promotion, Mac has all he can do to remain civil. Immediately aware of Mac’s attitude, Sam is surprised by his own reaction to such blatant, skin-color resentment. Even though he’s a pastor, Sam experiences for the first time the difficulty of responding in love to actual, unreasonable hate.
Yet this supposed partnership of police officers isn’t the only relationship that is severed by unforgiveness. Dysfunction plagues the McDonald family, as Mac’s inability to deal with the sadness of the past has led to a disintegrating marriage and a volatile relationship with his teenage son. Though not even aware of how badly they need it, the McDonalds and Sam have been brought together to learn hard lessons that will change their lives and touch a hurting community.
Given that this film is done by mostly newcomers to filmmaking, the quality of The Grace Card is surprising. The story, script, and cinematography are, in particular, of an ilk not usually seen in such nonprofessional projects. Top-tier equipment is partly to credit for the solid image quality, but the filmmakers also deserve commendation for their eye for composition and educating themselves enough to take advantage of the great gear.
Beginner’s mistakes are evident throughout the film, with such errors as heavy-handed symbolism in lighting, awkward transitions and pacing, as well as some hit-and-miss acting performances. These weaknesses, however, are more than balanced by the strength of the other areas mentioned. Essentials like realistic dialogue and compelling characters, which are often absent in lower-budget films, are in place. The story even contains the one or two unexpected twists that a good screenplay should have, heightening the drama and keeping the viewers guessing.
In addition, the filmmakers did well in casting their strongest actors in the biggest roles. The two leads give imperfect, but overall convincing portrayals. Newbie Michael Higgenbottom shows potential in his role as Sam, while Christian comedian Michael Joiner reveals a dark, emotional side as the haunted Mac. Joiner has had more acting experience than his co-star, and the difference is apparent, equipping him to handle the challenges and dramatic changes that define the character of Mac. The Grace Card also landed seasoned and acclaimed actor, Louis Gossett, Jr. Gossett’s screen time is regrettably brief, but his magnetic realism functions as an anchor to the rest of the film, as he takes the scenes that are the most unnecessary and turns them into foundational moments for the story.
Like most faith-based films, The Grace Card’s best feature is the strong Christian message. Here, the spiritual element is woven realistically throughout a story that has broader appeal than many Christian films, offering a premise and quality that even secular audiences might want to check out. Perhaps wanting to capitalize on that potential, the film is a bit apologetic about its Christianity at certain moments, primarily through characters who are not as bold as they should be about their faith. [MILD SPOILER WARNING] For example, a therapist is careful to clarify that she is not a “Christian counselor,” but rather a “counselor who just happens to be a Christian,” effectively downgrading her Christianity to the level of secondary, irrelevant coincidence.
This apology, this hint of shame on the part of some of the characters reduces the power of the Christian message in the film, but the overall godly themes of the story still enable The Grace Card to deliver a spiritual and emotional wallop. By the end of the movie, there may not be a dry eye in the audience. More importantly, viewers of The Grace Card will walk away with much to think about—most especially the importance of love, friendship, and the miraculous power of forgiving grace.