| Are you among the growing number of disenchanted movie watchers fed up with the gratuitous sex, blood-soaked violence and filthy language so prevalent in today’s cinema? You have cause to rejoice for something original and wholesome opening this weekend. This touching story conceived by optometrist David Evans deals with real-life situations and is not some make-believe Hollywood fantasy.
Bill “Mac” McDonald (Independence, Mo., resident Michael Joiner best known as a stand-up comedian) is a bitter and angry man. He became a police officer after watching his 5-year-old son, while learning to ride a bicycle, get run over and killed by a fleeing African-American drug dealer.
Mac lost his faith in God and has been unwilling to accept that bad things do happen to good people. He still has nightmares about the tragic accident that took place 17 years ago.
On the domestic front, Mac is physically present, but emotionally alienated from his wife, Sara (Joy Parmer Moore), and remaining son, Blake (Rob Erickson). Sara fell at work and is on disability. Mac is always arguing with Blake, a senior at an expensive private school. He considers him a screw-up and a problem child. The family has financial problems that are exacerbated when Mac is passed over for a promotion.
Things appear to get even worse for Mac when Lt. Bob Childers (Chris Thomas) pairs him up with Sam Wright (Michael Higgenbottom), a rising star on the police force who happens to be a part-time Nazarene pastor, a loving family man and African-American. Mac resents Sam for getting the promotion and the color of his skin. This unlikely partnership is like mixing oil with vinegar.
Sam is married with two young daughters. His understanding wife, Debra (Dawntoya Thomason), is not thrilled about Sam’s promotion. She thought Sam would give up being a cop and spend full-time in the ministry of their Eternal Light Gospel Church.
The astute Debra believes that God brought Sam into Mac’s life for a reason.
Two important supporting characters are Grandpa George Wright (Oscar and Emmy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. from “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Roots”) and Dr. Vines (Cindy Holmes Hodge).
Grandpa George tells Sam that “one act of grace can change history.” He recalls how a white cotton-farming slave owner taught his grandfather at age 8 to read and gave him his first Bible. This selfless act of kindness caused their ancestral family patriarch to become a preacher.
Grandpa George advises Sam that human beings are put on this earth to change hearts and lives. He recommends that forgiveness is the only thing that will make a difference for Sam in dealing with the hot-headed Mac.
Dr. Vines is a family counselor sought out by Sara, who realizes that her family is coming apart at the seams. Blake is hanging out with the wrong crowd and is smoking marijuana. He won’t graduate and will need to repeat his senior year because of failing grades. Dr. Vines takes the time to listen to Blake and offer guidance.
The movie alternates between the 10-hour shifts spent by Mac and Sam riding around Memphis in a patrol car and the domestic situations in their respective households.
The intensity and drama increase when Mac and Sam are sent to investigate a robbery in progress at a local supply warehouse. Mac discharges his weapon at a hooded suspect, who he believes to be armed.
The incredible emotional ending will bring tears to your eyes.
Evans makes an impressive feature film directorial debut, blending effective performances from a cast of mostly amateur actors. He is also to be commended for pulling off this production within the constraints of a $200,000 budget.
The screenplay by Howard A. Klausner (“Space Cowboys”) is full of lessons in life that go down easy. The movie advocates racial tolerance and makes the point that we are all the same on the inside. The film stresses the importance of showing grace, being compassionate toward others and offering forgiveness.
The title is tinged with irony, because miracles happen when human beings play “The Grace Card” rather than “The Race Card.”
Joiner and Higgenbottom have a great give-and-take chemistry when on camera together. Joiner offers a believable portrait of a tormented soul and expresses a wide range of emotions. Higgenbottom shines as a conflicted man. The two sermons he gives are oratory masterpieces.
Gossett adds the right touch of dignity and class. He is the glue that brings all the pieces together.
The cinematography proudly shows off the city of Memphis. The original score by Brent Rowan includes some wonderful gospel hymns and a most appropriate closing song, “Healing Begins,” that plays over the end credits.
This passionate faith-based movie offers moral encouragement and gives people an altruistic goal worth achieving. It deserves to be ranked alongside similar message-driven movies as “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof.”
The movie sustains your interest throughout a running time of 102 minutes. Regardless of your religious denomination, this offers the perfect opportunity for a group outing either as a family or a congregation.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"