Summary: Heroic lives can sometimes turn into schmaltzy stories when Hollywood gets a hold of them. This is the fear I have whenever I see a movie that says it is a "true story" or "inspired by real events". "Unconditional" is a movie whose preview warns you it is based on a real life. But rather than retreat into a script of stereotyped plot mechanisms and clichéd character lines, this movie soars. It is a film about life and love that doesn't rely on chapters with romanticised epigraphs of why life really matters.
Full Review: Samantha Crawford and Joe Bradford (played by Lynn Collins and Michael Ealy respectively) are two adults whose lives have re-intersected after having been apart since childhood. The stories of their intervening years were markedly different. Joe's life was a redemptive story of "meeting God in prison" that led him to a life of serving at-risk children. Sam's life was of the childhood artist whose idyllic adult marriage and young adult experience turns terribly tragic with the death of her saintly husband. The two main characters had grown up as best friends in grade school, but after drifting apart beyond childhood, are reunited by a seemingly random event in which their paths cross again.
Once reunited, Sam and Joe learn about each other's lives and it is in this context that the movie unfolds. The story told is both for their learning and ours. Because this is a film of tragedy turned to redemption, it can be easy to expect, and in turn dismiss, the impact of its virtues as tediously moralistic (or worse, religious). Yet, "Unconditional" doesn't run aground of trite "pop spirituality" as a plot device to rescue our characters from otherwise missing important themes. Collins and Ealy play their parts with finesse that provides their characters with personal warmth contrasted by broken humanity. You enjoy the story as it unfolds. You grasp the tension of their narratives. You are brought into the plot and find yourself engrossed in the idea that hope may actually win the day.
As a Christian, I have always been interested in seeing quality art and media that reflected personal glimpses into real faith. But I, conversely, have seen so much half-hearted, poorly-produced modern media (done in the name of Christian values) that the potential of a strong story is lost in a schmaltzy presentation done by sub par participants. Let me be clear, "Unconditional" is the first film I have seen that has modern film chops while exploring hopeful, spiritual possibilities. It's not a hackneyed "Christian film". And thank God.
Parent-rating wise, the film has some scenes and concepts which are disruptive for kids below 10 years old, though it's almost certain nothing here would be shocking to kids who have watched any prime time TV. The MPAA rating for the film is PG-13, primarily for some brief violent scenes and themes. I won't go against that rating. It seems apt, if not conservative.
Are there momentary pauses of heroism and sentimentalism to bask in? Yes, but none are too long or unbelievable and all fit the story. In short, the story and acting are so intriguing and delightful they center the gravity of the film to its characters, keeping it well grounded. The direction and visuals are given both well done. Poor cinematography and effects are the points in which other films with low-budget or weak leadership often bleed out on a film- you see none of that in "Unconditional". This is the first time, in a long time, that I've been emotionally engaged in a movie and not felt guilty for it- this story has the ability to grip you.
I strongly encourage you to consider seeing this movie. It may be warmly emotional, but it forecasts the movie style and expectations well in both the previews and the promo copy script. I highly recommend "Unconditional!" Go see it!
Movie link: http://unconditionalthemovie.com/
Review by Kim Gentes