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Mike C. Hartman,
Frank J. Levanduski
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A church destroyed. A congregation silenced. A relationship shattered. Yet even in life's darkest valleys, a small flame can light the way toward healing and hope. After a deadly fire rips through St. James Church, Hadleigh University leaders use the tragedy to push the congregation off campus, forcing the church to defend its rights and bringing together estranged brothers for a reunion that opens old wounds and forces them to address the issues that pulled them apart. Written by
Pure Flix Entertainment
"God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness" (PG, 2:00), also referred to as "God's Not Dead 3", is the third movie in the GND franchise, but the series is... evolving. 2014's "God's Not Dead" was mainly about attempting to prove God's existence academically (in a series of debates between a college student and his atheist professor). 2016's "God's Not Dead 2" tried to prove it in a courtroom, within the context of a plot that was more involved (but ridiculously unrealistic). This third GND film goes even further into concentrating on story development and abandons any attempt to prove God's existence through facts and logic. In this one, the director and writer of the first two are replaced by writer-director Michael Mason. It's Mason's first feature in any capacity, but his efforts give us the best executed GND yet.
The film picks up immediately following the post-credits scene in "2" in which Reverend David Hill (David A.R. White) is arrested for refusing a court order to turn over transcripts of his sermons. David's brief incarceration is fodder for news and talk shows, carrying forward the GND narrative that Christianity is under siege in modern America. David's church has become a source of political and social division in this small-town Arkansas community - and for the (fictional) college on whose land the church stands.
When a female coed named Keaton (Samantha Boscarino) breaks up with her boyfriend, Adam (Mike C. Manning), over religious differences, Adam takes out his frustrations by throwing a brick through a window of David's church. That single impulsive act has unintended but serious consequences which give the college an excuse to offer David a check to buy the building - and to use an eminent domain claim to try to force him to accept. This sets up a battle royale (legal and otherwise) between the pastor and one of his best friends, Hadleigh University chancellor Thomas Ellsworth (Ted McGinley). David gets his estranged brother, Pearce (John Corbett), to take a reluctant break from his Chicago law practice and come down to Arkansas to help. But in spite of all the help David gets from his irreligious brother, and the support he gets from his new girlfriend (Jennifer Taylor), he wonders why he hasn't heard from God.
"God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness" is more enjoyable, more relatable and more relevant than the previous GND movies. This one isn't nearly as preachy as the others (not even allowing anyone a comforting "He's with Jesus now" when a main character dies), settling for trying to prove God's not dead by showing how alive he is in the lives of his followers. In doing so, Mason puts forth a story that is dramatic and accessible enough for a broader audience to appreciate - including well-written dialog and excellent acting. In the end, the film's point of view is very clear, along with an even more wide-ranging message about the need for listening over talking, unity over divisiveness and love over hate. "B+"
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