Even with an unlikeable lead and sloppy editing, All Saints still deserves credit.
by Steve Pulaski
Give All Saints some considerable credit. It's a faith-based film operating in a day and age where films of the genre come out via small distribution houses with varying degrees of box office success and are more divisive than your average presidential candidates, that tries to humanize an often generalized and slandered demographic. Director Steve Gomer (Barney's Great Adventure) and screenwriter Steve Armour try to take the debatably thankless route with their film, telling a story to their target audience about how refugees and minorities are actually capable of being decent human beings. Based on the true story of the All Saints Episcopal Church - a church that was set to be razed to make way for a supermarket that came back from financial ruin to help and unite a community - the film tells the story with no intent to proselytize, thankfully, but also with no real commitment to make us like our main character.
That character is Michael Spurlock, played by John Corbett of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Sex and the City fame, a paper-salesman-turned-pastor during the final days of the All Saints Church's operations who never comes off as genuine even when he tries so very hard to be. He speaks like a salesman, informing the town and his thinning congregation of his plans to make use of the church's fertile soil for crops they could harvest. Some food would be kept to feed hungry Burma refugees, escaping violence in their home country, and the remainder would be sold to bigger domestic food companies in order to get the church out of debt. Throughout his spiel, he speaks like a televangelist peddling miracle water or debt-relief by way of obtaining money from his loyal viewers. He doesn't really know how he'll grow the food or how he'll wind up harvest it, but don't worry - he's gonna.
The one person in town of Smyrna, Tennessee who sees through Michael's self-motivated "sign from God" is Forrest (Barry Corbin), a grumpy ol' local who cantankerously dismisses his concept of growing food for a surprisingly selfless reason. "You want to work these people till their fingers bleed and their backs are broken so bad they can't bend over and pick up their kids in the evening?," Forrest scours at Michael. The "people" in question are the refugees, and one of whom tasked with being an odd-job man on the farm is Ye Win (Nelson Lee), a strong, stoic soul with a wife who leaves him early on in his commitment to reviving All Saints. He helps Michael water without the help of a tractor, while Michael's wife Aimee (Cara Buono) is more-or-less carried around in her husband's bout of unconventional wisdom that he can save a church by hoping, praying, and doing a bunch of ridiculously grueling labor by way of pioneers due to the lack of equipment.
All Saints definitely shows the strength of the human-spirit in times of desperation or when real decision-making is necessary to pull through. Instead of showing the struggles of the Burma refugees in detail - save for a harrowing moment where several people think police coming to a child's rescue after being struck by a car is an act of kidnapping - Armour shows the assimilation of the men and women to the values of hard work and manual labor. The fact that he at least tries to humanize characters like Ye Min, and mostly does a good job, is satisfactory given how dreadfully judgmental and stereotyped people can be in this typical genre (see Do You Believe?).
But the film can't overcome two big hurdles in the form of mawkishness and its sloppy editing, most noticeable in the first and third acts. The film's narrative pacing is so jumbled, at times, there's reason to believe scenes were edited out of order. The first half-hour jumps around so much, the chronology of events and time-lapse becomes a muddle of inconsistency. Being that the film was edited by Richard Halsey, the co-editor of Rocky, I might be inclined to give the benefit of the doubt in regards to the film's screenplay just bopping around so much that many brief scenes contributed to such a confounding pace.
The emotionally manipulative narrative should not so much come as a surprise for a film of this nature, but that doesn't mean it avoids hindering a rather adequate story of determination. Through every sappy or tender moment, a cloying violin ballad plays, just in case we couldn't feel any natural, instinctive emotion on our own. As of late, like positive endings in the face of more realistic ones, I'm becoming more and more of a grouch with overly obvious scores and pandering synth music. Some say all it tries to do is act as a mood intensifier; I say it acts as an indicator that the filmmakers lack confidence in the writing strength of their film. As a result, glaringly apparent attempts at making the audience not only resonate but emotional at any given moment must be orchestrated by way of chords that demand we feel a certain way at a given instant.
All Saints still works on more levels than dreck like Slamma Jamma or War Room, but its unlikable lead character, sloppy editing which effectively obscures just how the church manages to make out against all odds in the final act, and its cloying violin-ridden soundtrack deter from achieving any kind of quality even close to the level of its amazingly true story.
Steve's Grade: C-