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Review: Providence (2016)

You probably haven’t seen any trailers for it.  As a matter of fact, you probably haven’t even heard of it.  But by golly, I’m going to put on my hipster glasses and review this thing.

In short, Providence is an indie Christian film in the tradition of silent film, almost as if we never had the “talkies.”  Like the company’s previous film The Good Book (which I reviewed here), it’s set to the backdrop of music, often relying on the cinematography and actor interactions to take the place of dialogue.  That in and of itself is ambitious, and makes it stand out.

The story itself is a love story, which follows two friends that grow up in the same small town in Tennessee.  Their paths start out much the same, being kids that come across Bibles, Rachel by a gift from her grandmother, and Mitchell through buying one in a bookstore.  And even though he’s smitten with her to begin with, their paths diverge before coming back together again years later.

If you’ve read my reviews of Christian film before, you’ll know what I consider to be the genre’s greatest weakness: being too preachy.  That is, that Christians often want to use film as an evangelistic medium when it really should be used as an art form.  That’s why we often end up with films that are supposed to be directed towards non-Christians, but often end up only reaching Christians, and we’re essentially “preaching to the choir,” almost literally so.  Part of the problem inherent in how this is often executed is that Christians have neat, squeaky-clean lives that are rarely what is actually the case – we all know that Christians have issues just like everyone else, and have struggles of their own to work through.

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There’s a way in which this lattermost issue is dealt with better than in most Christian film.  In the interest of fairness, Mitchell is quite squeaky-clean, and we never really get a sense for any real faults of his.  But by the same token, Rachel, who begins the movie quite innocent, doesn’t stay so for long.  She becomes involved in the popular circle of her high school, and eventually the party scene.  There’s a consequence of that about a third of the way through the movie that has some pretty disastrous consequences for the rest of her life.  This exhibits something that’s far too often overlooked – Christians haven’t always been Christians.  And while I wish the writers had given the same complexity to Mitchell, I appreciate that Rachel’s character was a bit more nuanced.

The first common flaw with Christian film – it’s being overly preachy – isn’t really an issue here either, mostly due to the nature of the medium itself.  While God is fully present and you see the faith of each character displayed (Mitchell’s more so than Rachel’s), the story is more about Rachel and the difficulties of both her childhood and adult life than it is about an altar call.

Also of note here is something that’s often underappreciated in common mainstream films – the music.  The film certainly has its flaws (which I’ll get to in a moment), but the music certainly is not one of them.  Not only do I find myself wanting the soundtrack, but for the most part, it flows perfectly with the story, giving meaning and voice to the tone of the story that screenwriters often rely on dialogue to do.  And it’s not just serviceable in that role, it really does it quite well.

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Those are things that have to be appreciated about the film, because they are things that far too few Christian films get right.  But there are issues with the movie as it is as well, many of them being limitations of the silent film medium.  As I mentioned before, the medium is highly ambitious, and at times that ambitious gets away from the filmmakers.  Of the film’s three or so major events, the main idea, or the primary emotion of the plot developments are clear, but what is actually happening is at times vague or elusive.  There may not be a good way to remedy that, the silent medium being what it is, but that doesn’t stop that particular limitation from distracting the viewer and bringing the audience out of the story.

Another limitation of the medium is that it really seems too long.  It’s only one hour and eighteen minutes, which is certainly shorter than a full-length feature film, but still is difficult to maintain attention for that length of time.  For all of these reasons, it’s almost hard to evaluate this on level with an ordinary film.  It almost certainly cannot compare with mainstream feature films, because it’s really just a different sort of thing.  So I can’t recommend it as a popcorn flick or even as a date movie.  But I can say that it’s an interesting watch, if you’re looking for something a little more eclectic or unusual.

Rating: 7/10

Providence opens today in select theaters.  You can find out more on their website here.

Logan Judy
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At Cross Culture, Logan writes about film, comics, cultural analysis, and whatever else strikes his fancy. In addition to his work at Cross Culture, Logan also blogs and podcasts at A Clear Lens. You can find him tweeting about Batman, apologetics, and why llamas will one day rule the world, @loganrjudy.
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