A Long Way Off
by Phil Boatwright

Straight to DVD release from Word Entertainment. Jason Burkey (October Baby), John Diehl (Stargate), Robert Davi (License to Kill/Goonies/Diehard), Zoe Myers (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues). Written by Jon Macy and co-directed by Michael Davis (Destiny Road) and John Errington (A Box for Rob). Rated PG for brief sensuality and some violence.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Retelling the timeless parable of a father’s unconditional love, tempestuous young Jake tries to escape the duties of the family business by leaving his home and taking his dreams to the big city. Far from the wise words of his father, Abraham, Jake is finally free to live the high life that he’s always wanted, trading the traditional values of his upbringing to revel in every temptation that money can buy. Just when Jake thinks the world is his playground and every day offers another enticing opportunity, he must come face to face with the consequences of the life he’s chosen. Jake must learn that sometimes it takes losing everything to realize/appreciate what he left behind, and if his mistakes can ever outweigh the grace of a father’s forgiveness.

PREVIEW REVIEW: The problem with this, what seems like the 98th screen retelling of the Prodigal Son, is that you have to endure an unlikable character throughout the entire film. Often with movie adaptations of Bible tales many of the characters tend to be one dimensional. They are there merely to serve as props for the parable.

If you know the Bible story, then you know the lead loses everything. This means we spend the entire movie watching the protagonist make one bad decision after another. This guy’s dumber than a bagful of hammers.

In better films dealing with a searching man, filmmakers keep in mind that the audience not only has to identify with the protagonist, they also have to find something likeable in him.

Example: In Tender Mercies, the story begins with Robert Duvall’s character on the skids. He’s broken spiritually and emotionally. Since we have all gone through these stages, or will, he’s a character we can relate to. But quickly he becomes a character we root for. He’s a character with character. What’s more, there isn’t a single caricature in that film. The supporting players are real, and while they are there to serve the story, they are also people we feel for.

That said, A Long Way Off is a tale of a father’s love despite a son’s wicked ways. The parable is that God loves us despite our foibles and faults. While He could easily find us unworthy or unlovable, God, for some unfathomable reason, loves us and beckons us home.

No actor in A Long Way Off seems all that challenged, and the technical aspects of the production, while satisfactory, are nothing extraordinary. We have the herky-jerky hand-held camera, which takes us out of the action rather than giving scenes tension; the musical score is syrupy and maudlin, and the father figure, a supposed down-to-earth farmer, wears his 6-day growth of beard at precisely that same length throughout the story. Whenever I see that, I feel it to be an affectation, usually one that doesn’t fit the character. In my mind’s eye, I see that actor each morning having his facial hair trimmed by the makeup man while the actor goes over his lines. It takes you out of the scene.

Now, allow me to clarify something. The film gets a family-approved dove, evidently because of the safety of the PG content. And I noticed that Sean Hannity, whom I have the utmost respect for, endorsed the film on the jacket. Certainly, I am constantly on the look for faith and family-friendly films to bring to your awareness. But I’m a critic, not a news commentator, not the head of a company that judges movies mainly for their MPAA content. You have to pay for the “Christian films just like any Hollywood offerings. More and more faith & family films are hitting the market place. Sadly, not all of them are entertaining, well-made, or spiritually fulfilling. If a film made with the best of Christian intention does not live up to its source material, it’s my job to warn you. So, consider yourselves warned.

DVD Alternatives: Tender Mercies. Robert Duvall as a country singer on the skids who turns his life around, with the help of a religious widow and her son. PG (A few profanities are heard from the male lead in an opening scene, but a Christian woman has an effect on his life and it is revealed that he becomes a Christian. He stops drinking and swearing and becomes a more contemplative and compassionate person). The small role of a country minister is depicted with a genuineness seldom seen in the movies. I make very few exceptions concerning the misuse of God’s name in a film, even one bent on showing the difference in a man’s life, once he decides to follow biblical teachings. Tender Mercies is full of positive examples of the Christian lifestyle. That said, it can be argued that the filmmaker could have fulfilled his goal by other means than having the lead profane the Creator’s name. I suppose I have defended this film because with the use of profanity, it is made clear that the lead is at war with God. After he becomes a Christian, his life is new, his old lifestyle defeated. He’s still having to deal with life’s struggles, but he is at peace with God.

Together. This Chinese film concerns a widowed father who sacrifices everything in order to support his teenage son’s gifted musical abilities. The son can’t see the sacrifices made on his behalf until the end. Beautifully filmed in the “Forbidden City” of China, full of humor, drama and insight, Together is a powerful morality play with an ending that moved me to tears. It reminded me of 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, he has denied the faith.” There are other movies with the same title. This is from China and South Korea and is rated PG. .

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