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A religious film that more than just its heavy-handed themes.
King's Faith doesn't exhibit the tired traits of oppressive religious themes nor melodramatic preachiness like past films of its genre, and because of that, spends more time effectively developing several characters we come to like, or at least have the ability to root for, by the film's conclusion. Too often do these stories from films of the religious genre bear fascinating narratives of great potential only to discard them for hamfisted morals and second-rate drama that does nothing for the film as a whole. It just preaches to the choir who was going to like it no matter what.
King's Faith isn't a complete three-sixty from the genre's ideas and shortcomings, but it does provide for an example more along the lines of the Kendrick brothers' well-done Courageous than it does Darrel Campbell and Kevin McAfee's dreaded Last Ounce of Courage. The film centers around Brendan King (Crawford Wilson), a well-meaning but very troubled kid who joined a gang at a young age and is still reeling from its effects today. Brendan has had countless run-ins with the law and has found himself with a laundry list of offenses ranging from minor to major to even a stack of misdemeanors for all his gang-related activity.
Brendan had an alcoholic mother who died, a father he never knew, and no siblings, rendering him a child taken under the wings of foster care and foster parents. He is finally adopted by a kind black couple and taken under the wing by his father-figure Mike (James McDaniel), both god-fearing individuals who are said to "have never taken a shortcut in their life." In the midst of finding himself harassed by local law enforcement, Brendan makes a name for himself around town after saving his school's homecoming queen from her burning car after it careened off the road. The queen is Natalie (Kayla Compton), your average high schooler with something of a shady past, a complicated relationship, but a girl equipped with a big heart. She becomes friends with Brendan, along with several others, who eventually encourage him to rebuild and remodel a dilapidated building downtown into a rehabilitation center for kids who have seen oppressively bleak times due to drugs, gangs, or what-have-you.
The trouble brewing in the neighborhood doesn't come from Brendan, like public perception would believe, but the gang Brendan left, led by Eli (Brandon Correa), who claims the gang is family when they operate more like a cult. With them constantly butting into his life and the lives of his close friends, as well as a persistent investigator just waiting for his slightest misstep so that he can add him to the list of statistics, Brendan is burdened with much more stress than one should be able to handle at his age. I mean, we don't even see what Brendan is learning at school either. I'm sure potential classes like trigonometry and physics aren't treating him so kindly either.
But Brendan has one thing close to him that not many do and that is the power and influence of the almighty God, bestowed upon him by his guardian Mike, who finds ways to give the kid a much-needed lesson in morality, much like King's Faith attempts to do for us. As Christian films have told me time and time again, the only person who really matters in life is God and he'll carry you through these tribulations with great caution and care for you or something along those lines. I don't know; his plans and duties seem to change with every instance.
The religious aspect actually finds itself to be absent at some points in the film. Sometimes ten minutes go by without the mention of any biblical characters. This is quite the achievement for a film of Christian cinema, as too many find the need to name-drop God with everything they say. It's true King's Faith is guilty of biblical name dropping here and there, but at least it doesn't go out of its way to incorporate God into every scene in some way, shape, or form, and at least it doesn't detour to find some way to say how people who take a secular approach to life are immoral heathens while religion or devotion to a holy book automatically makes one a righteous, morally-aware person.
This is because King's Faith knows that real-life situations, moderately-intense and interesting drama, and characters that feel ejected from real life win over tired affirmation of ideas. Every now and then, a film boasting heavy Christian ideology will turn up in a theater near me, and I can't help but find them to be - like most political documentaries - an exercise in preaching to the choir. Most showings of films from both respective genres probably conclude with audience members praising the quality of the film they just saw and how they "really wish" people on the opposite political or religious spectrum would see them and get the real picture on how life really works. The thought - in both cases, to be fair - sends shivers down my spine.
King's Faith at least has interesting characters and a naturally convincing scenario to levy its inclusion of themes that come across with a heavier-hand. It also bears a heartwarming performance by its lead Wilson, who I foresee getting hopefully) more mainstream recognition, as well as competent directing and co-writing (with Paul Root) by the project's ringleader Nicholas Dibella. This is one of the first religious films that I've seen that I find myself recommending to people who aren't solely devoted to their faith; getting them to seek this one out, however, will prove to be a challenge.
Starring: Crawford Wilson, James McDonald, Kayla Compton, and Brandon Correa. Directed by: Nicholas Dibella.
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