Two weeks ago I had the privilege to watch an advanced screening of the movie, To Save A Life. They have a pretty agressive marketing campaign among the Christian community, so you’ve no-doubt heard of it and either dismissed it because it’s a “Christian film” and thought, “Please, no more Kirk Cameron!,” or, like me, you just put it on a back burner due to all the other demands of your time. Here are my thoughts after watching the film:
The story starts at the grave side of a high school student who committed suicide. A few of his family and friends are present, including Jake Taylor, the high school senior the movie shadows for the next two hours. For a number of reasons, Jake is devastated by the tragedy and, through his search for answers, he meets a youth pastor, Chris, who becomes a trusted friend. As Jake wrestles through issues like popularity, cutting, abortion, sex, divorce, drugs and relationships, his life eventually hits rock bottom. One might expect that this is the point when he turns to Christ, but the story is thankfully a bit more real than that. The truth is, Jake decided to give God a try early in the film and because of that, combined with the consequences of his past mistakes, he hits bottom, thinking that God was supposed to make everything better.
The plot is very heavy for two hours straight and has almost no comic relief. I was craving a break in the tension after about an hour or so, but none came, leaving me pretty emotionally worn out by the end, but fortunately it has a positive ending. A normal Christian film might try to wrap up all the teen issues with an over-simplistic and unbiblical, “Jesus can make your life happy and perfect!” but instead To Save A Life ends with the more realistic, “Life is hard, there are no simple answers, and a relationship with Christ is the only way to navigate it all.”
The film is surprisingly very well done. I was expecting a lot of cheesy moments from poor acting and churchiness, but the cheese-factor was kept to a minimum. In fact, there’s only one or two places that make you roll your eyes a bit, but even then it’s not big enough to make you laugh or grin.
Overall, the acting was a solid performance. They hired people who have experience in various other films and TV shows, which was probably a good move, regardless of if most of them are unbelievers. In my opinion, a movie that’s professionally done and credible trumps whether or not the actors on the screen actually know Christ or not. Hopefully this film is one that brings them one step closer in that direction!
My only gripe with the acting is that the main character, played by Randy Wayne, had this, “I’m deep in thought” look on his face for the first three-quarters of the movie. Granted, he was thinking through a lot of issues in the film, but a slightly different “deep in thought” face would’ve been nice. After a while, it kinda looked like his face was stuck like that.
His girlfriend in the movie, played by Deja Kreutzberg, did an outstanding job, though. I was thoroughly impressed with her performance despite her more limited film career.
True to it’s marketing hype, the film discusses many teen issues like cutting, suicide, school shootings, abortion, divorce, cliques, drinking, peer pressure, dating, sex, and a lot more. Impressively, none of these issues feel forced into the story — they all feel like a natural part of Jake Taylor’s life and experiences.
However, I would opt to change some of the wording I read in other reviews and promotional pieces: the film doesn’t “deal” with all of these issues as much as it just highlights them and brings attention to how they’re often all integrated. That said, it does give more treatment to some of the issues than others, especially cliques and peer pressure, but I’m not sure I’d say it deals with every issue.
You should also be aware that, although it is a Christian film, it is not overtly so. My impression is that the producer wanted to demonstrate the power of a changed life through Christ without getting too churchy, which is good, but I would’ve liked to see the gospel communicated more clearly at the end. If there was ever a film to pull it off without being weird or tacky about it, this film could’ve done it very successfully. Instead, we just see a glimpse into what a changed life looks like.
The other thing about not being an overtly Christian film is that there is some swearing, an implied sex scene, and some of the normal graphic footage you might expect to see in a film that contains cutting and alcohol. It’s probably nothing “worse” than what you’d normally see on network TV, though. I wasn’t offended by it at all. In fact, it almost gave the film more credibility in the sense that we should never expect unbelievers to act like believers, and most of the characters in the film are definitely unbelievers. They’re just living the way they know how, and that transparency is communicated on the screen.
So the million dollar question: Should you take your church’s youth group to see this film? For high school students, absolutely! For jr. high students, probably. The only reason I hesitate with jr. highers is because of the power of suggestion for them. Most, if not all, high school students have had first- or second-hand experience with the issues that are visually highlighted in the film. Some jr. highers, on the other hand, have a chance of still being a little more innocent (albiet, a small chance). They definitely need to be exposed to these issues around this age and doing it within the safety and wisdom of adults in a faith-based context is the best place to do it, but it is an emotionally taxing movie. I’d advise that you take a couple weeks to talk through these teen issues with jr. highers first, then go see the movie together. With sr. high, I’d probably do just the reverse: see the movie together first, then discuss it.
To Save A Life has youth group curriculum to accompany the movie, which you can purchase for $59.99 right now. I haven’t used it yet, but will probably pick it up soon for some of the high school small groups in my church after some further input from the adult and student leaders.
The movie is playing in theaters starting TODAY! Check out ToSaveALifeMovie.com for more information about the movie and to find a theater near you.
Win a free “To Save A Life” fan pack!
The people at To Save A Life have graciously given me 1 fan pack of schwag to give away for FREE to a lucky random person! The fan pack contains:
- Limited Edition Hoodie
- Printed novel
- A slap bracelet
- and other fun movie stuff
All you have to do is use the Twitter or Facebook Share buttons at the top of this page to help spread the word about this film and review! Next Friday, January 29, I will select one person at random and award them with the fan pack. (Note: you may tweet and post this review multiple times if you want, but doing so will not increase your chances of winning.) Enjoy!
UPDATE: This contest is over. See a video of the drawing for the fan pack giveaway here. Did you win it?
Posted on January 22, 2010