As I left the theater on Saturday, the words that came to my mind most readily were “beautifully done.” I had just experienced a movie that was the rare combination of high-quality acting and production values and a solidly redemptive message based on God’s unconditional love. The film, Unconditional, is the best Christian-themed product I’ve ever seen.
It doesn’t preach at all, yet the message is crystal clear: bitterness and revenge destroy; the reach of God’s love extends into the midst of all the bitterness and brings forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation. I give the screenwriter the credit he deserves. He eschews heavy-handedness and artificiality. There is subtleness as he portrays how the love of God can work in a human heart and then spread to others.
There is a true story behind the script. All of the events in the life of “Papa Joe” Bradford are the backdrop for the interweaving of at least three, perhaps four, character and plot threads. “Papa Joe,” who is one of the co-producers of the film, has an inner-city ministry in Nashville, the setting of the story.
He providentially meets his childhood friend, Samantha, when she takes a young girl to the hospital after a traffic accident, a girl in Joe’s neighborhood, one to whom he has been ministering. Samantha had planned to take her own life that night until the accident interrupts her plan. She is despondent over the death of her husband, the victim of a shooting. Her story arc is the struggle to overcome her anger toward the perpetrator who got away.
As the film deals with Samantha’s tragedy and inner bitterness, it simultaneously provides Joe’s background: the racism he had to handle as a child, the foolish act that landed him in prison, the time in solitary where he received God’s forgiveness, and his need for a kidney donor.
What the movie accomplishes so splendidly is its ability to tug emotionally on the audience without descending into sappiness. Both the script itself and the superb acting transcend cheap emotionalism and replace it with genuineness. Its depiction of life in the projects is gritty and real. The sense of lostness and despair hangs in the air. Yet it also realistically shows how the love of God can penetrate that despair and offer hope.
This film deserves our support. It needs to stay on the big screen for an extended period. It has the potential to lead viewers to rethink their relationships with God and others. It is, as I said above, “beautifully done.” See it yourself and spread the word.