...shining light on the media, one review at a time
There are few things in this world as inevitable as suffering. Even a person with a so-called charmed life will eventually experience some kind of suffering, whether minor or crippling. Little wonder, then, that philosophers, theologians, and the average Joe have been preoccupied with the issue of suffering since the fall of man. There are debates over the causes of and reasons for suffering, but, particularly for the everyday person, the most relevant point in question is usually how to deal with suffering.
As a gritty, powerfully acted, and artistic new film, Unconditional’s take on this weighty issue is unusually poignant and refreshingly close to biblical truth. While some violence and mature themes make this movie best for adults and older teens, the film avoids the other content pitfalls common to Hollywood. Unconditional knows no bounds in its pursuit to tell a hard-hitting story that shows the pain of suffering in order to show the best of love.
Samantha Crawford knows all about charmed living. The idyllic world she dreamed of as a little girl who loved to create stories seems to become a reality when she grows up and marries a perfect guy, lives on a beautiful farm, and wins awards for her children’s books.
The fantasy is shattered when Sam’s husband is murdered. The darkness of a hopeless and cruel world closes in around Sam, suffocating her desire to tell stories and to live. The only purpose that keeps her going is the consuming need to find her husband’s killer and bring him to justice. The police gave up the search long ago, but Sam cannot quit.
That is, until the clues dry up and she is overcome with hopelessness. Just when she is about to end her torment, Sam is interrupted by two children who desperately need her help. These kids lead to an unexpected encounter with the best friend of her childhood, Joe Bradford. Her old pal is living in the Projects where Sam’s husband was killed—the last place she would have expected to find Joe.
A providential reunion? It seems so, when the two friends end up being just what the other needs in this troubling and grown-up real world.
Based on the true story of a man named Joe Bradford, Unconditional has a rare amount of authenticity for a film that is also so free of offensive content. In the hands of director Brent McCorkle and his obviously gifted cinematographer Michael Regalbuto, the dark and rough world of the Projects comes vividly to life. As one can easily see from their work, these two men, their crew, and cast are true professionals.
The high production quality of this film deserves more than the limited release it received in theatres. The use of lighting and the camerawork are impressive and reflect an artistry not seen in TV movies or other low-budget pieces. The “money shot” at the close of the film reaches a magnificence that is quite unexpected in a “small time” film.
With a screenplay that is highly character-driven, Unconditional hinges on the performance of the lead actors. Though based on incidents from Joe Bradford’s life, the central storyline of the movie belongs to his friend, Samantha. Lynn Collins’s turn as Sam, then, is the most crucial for Unconditional. Collins proves the perfect choice to be the backbone of the picture, bringing the authenticity, raw emotion, and nuanced performance this film needs. Collins is an actor with an especially readable, expressive face and eyes that she knows how to use with the camera. Reminiscent of actress Megan Follows, Collins is a gifted and riveting talent to watch.
Michael Ealy fills the less developed role of Joe with an easy, natural style that makes one forget he is acting and think of him only as Joe Bradford. A talented group of child actors surround Ealy and Collins, as well, showing the sure presence of an excellent director to guide the youngsters.
Most remarkably, this power punch of production quality is aimed to strike the hearts and minds of viewers with nothing but positive and hopeful messages. Unconditional is nearly free of any problematic language, with one use of “dang” as the only concern.
Violence is an undeniable part of the world Unconditional shows and is not completely avoided by the filmmakers. There are several scenes in which the fights that include punching, kicking, and the like are shown, though not in much detail. One shooting victim is shown more graphically than is necessary, rendering the film unsuitable for children.
For appropriately aged audiences, however, the content is meaningful and redemptive, driving home the movie’s many positive messages. The importance of love and friendship tops the list of central themes, as Sam learns to see the presence of supportive love even in the midst of her suffering. Love saves children from the streets, Joe from death, and Sam from strangling grief and violence. Non-romantic love gets a rare chance to shine in this film, since almost all of the examples of love emphasize familial or friendship love, even showing that lasting cross-gender friendships are possible and valuable.
Joe is the vehicle for several other inspirational messages, as viewers learn from his example of sacrifice, compassion, and kindness to others. Through his outreach to inner-city children, Joe has an obvious, vital impact on many young lives—children who would otherwise soon be lost on the streets or in the prisons, if they survived at all. This effort is not something that Joe does without cost, as the work requires great personal sacrifice, even jeopardizing his own life as he focuses singularly on others.
The question of suffering comes into play through Sam’s journey, which memorably explores this difficult reality, including the pain of devastating loss that can lead to utter hopelessness. In keeping with the inspirational nature of this film, Unconditional’s take on this topic comes to an encouraging, though not comprehensive conclusion, emphasizing the love and friendship of others that can carry one through times of trial. But herein lies Unconditional’s one failure, as the film misses the chance to present a truer, everlasting, and constant source of strength and help in suffering.
Yet, despite being marketed toward Christians and showcasing a few mentions of God, Unconditional is not truly a Christian film. The movie asks some God-related questions, but does not offer any of the answers. Many Christians who watch the film will have no trouble filling in the blanks with biblical truth, but most secular viewers will be all too content with the vague, feel-good concept of God and the power of human community that Unconditional presents. Despite the movie’s great promise, therefore, Unconditional ultimately limits its power by choosing to emphasize a representation and a gift of God (i.e., love) over God Himself.
As a secular film, however, Unconditional is immeasurably closer to the truth than the Hollywood competition. The messages that Unconditional conveys and the questions that it asks are a hopeful beginning—a reason to watch this film and be encouraged for life in this often troubling, grown-up real world.