Sometimes it seems as if the religious community wants to make quality film, but in reality has no comprehension of what it takes to either attract an audience outside of their belief system, or to make a good quality film. Thankfully, there are recent examples to show how a quality film can be made, that displays images of faith and spirituality, while at the same time telling a good, entertaining story in an effective way. The most recent such a film is The Way Home, starring Dean Cain, of Lois and Clark and Ripley’s Believe it or Not fame. The movie distributed by Lionsgate is produced by Red 5 Entertainment. It is more than an example of how to make a film regarding faith; it is an example of the quality work in much of the independent market.
The Way Home is the inspiring true story of how a community comes together in the search of missing 2-year-old Joe Simpkins. The Simpkins family is getting ready for a vacation when workaholic father, Randy, played by Dean Cain, takes a few moments to check his work email. In the meantime his youngest child is outside playing after Randy was asked to put him in his car seat. After going outside and discovering the tricycle on its side, he and his wife, Christal, played by Lori Beth Edgeman begin a frantic search in hopes of finding their child. It isn’t long before their local church starts up a prayer chain and hundreds from the community show up to assist in the search of young Joe.
One of the things I appreciated about this film is the quality of how it is made. While there are minimal flaws in the supporting roles, there is a good supporting cast. Their characters are provided great direction by producer, director and writer Lance W. Dreesen. Dreesen has done a more than admirable job in virtually every aspect of the film he had control of. From the lighting, to cinematography, editing, scripting and casting with a smaller than norm budget, A Way Home is exceptional. Lost in many indie films is the lack of story, this movie, while dialog and event driven, is driven by story. It is driven in such a way the viewer never looses interest and in the process finds themselves asking questions. There is a great use of camera angles that adds to this and the usage of hand held cameras in certain scenes adds to the realism of what we see portrayed on screen. This adds not just to the realism, it adds to the intensity. Dreesen in his direction also answers the questions we might ask, in a respectful way that provides life lessons.
As the story develops outside characters enter into the story. While some of those are minor, they are quite good and play key roles. We see the impact and change in their characters and the story as a result of their involvement. We see this in a few flashback sequences and an effective flash forward sequence where the primary character Randy Simpkins imagines and thinks about what the future may hold if he does, or if he doesn’t find his son.
There are other characters where we see this; especially good is Tom Nowicki as Sheriff Tony Reeves who does a stand up job. There are other interesting characters which add to the story, especially interesting is the character of Ed Walker played movingly by Sonny Shoyer, who joions the search for young Joe. Ed is haunted by years of memories regarding the loss of his little brother, also named Joe. Director Dreesen weaves the subplots together and draws the viewer into the story. Early on we see the mother Christal in some questionable moments. We see her character develop in such a way where there will be several scenes where it will be hard for any mother to not share in her pain, and in her tears. We also see effective direction and story telling when we see the impact of what is happening through the eyes of others. This is especially effective when we see through the eyes of a local television reporter who is observing the organized chaos around her, but also the people who care and are coming together.
There is no doubt that faith, and especially prayer and community are critical components of The Way Home. One of the things I appreciated though is the honest and respectful way the questions are asked and dealt with, not just a respectful way for those within the faith community, but also a respectful non preachy way for the non faith community. I had an initial reservation regarding the emphasis placed on prayer. I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘yeah, there is a lot of prayer going on in the community that the searchers will find little Joe but what about all of those that pray and their prayers aren’t answered?’ I later saw an honest and effective answer to this question in the character of Ed Walker. A man who had prayed for his own little brother, yet seemingly, God didn’t answer his prayer. Later on though, we see the impact of his actions, mixed in with his prayers. One may even come to the conclusion that God found a way to answer his prayer.
Another component many reviewers are picking up on is the importance of community. There is a powerful representation of people coming together, not just the faith community but the community as a whole. Of course we see the faith community praying, but not just praying, they are actively involved in the search for Joe. When the characters realize what is really important, we see behaviors and actions also change. The representation is so powerful on screen that this may be one of the best marketing tools the community of Carroll County, Georgia could have ever hoped for. There are the positives of living in a real community, where people genuinely love and care for their neighbors. The call for communities to come back to this point of life where we know and care for our neighbors isn’t lost on me. It inspires me to get to know my neighbors and will likely do the same for others.
Outside of a few issues with the small children in their roles, and a few times it felt like some of the cast was reading lines as opposed to acting, this is a very good film. I was inspired, and even though I watched it with another guy, couldn’t help but wipe away a few tears at times. I also enjoyed the special features on the DVD and the technical quality of the film. While not in High Definition Blu-Ray the transfer is exceptional and appears like a Blu-Ray high resolution film. It is even better than a lot of Blu-Ray films I have seen. I was also impressed with the 2 special features, one a documentary style making of feature which had interviews with several of the cast and the real life characters they played. The emotions of the real characters are quite moving. I also appreciated the feature with the sit down discussions of the real life characters, Randy and Christal Simpkins alongside the actors playing their parts in the film.
There is some really bad movies out there, a lot of those are making it to DVD either due to them being a direct to DVD release or a poor theatrical run. This movie deserved a better theatrical run than it had and is a hidden gem of a movie. Not only people of faith will enjoy this, but all audiences will be inspired by this remarkable story. While it is nice to be inspired, it is even nicer to be inspired by something the makers of this film obviously believed in, it is evidenced with not just the story, but the quality of how they told the story. If looking for an uplifting movie, you can’t go wrong with The Way Home.
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