By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE | Published September 20, 2018
NEW YORK (CNS)—In 2014, Angelina Jolie helmed the often harrowing but ultimately uplifting fact-based drama “Unbroken.” The film was based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling 2010 biography of Olympic runner-turned-war-hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (1917-2014), “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”
Working from the same text, director Harold Cronk continues Zamperini’s story, this time with an emphasis on the woes that beset him after he returned home at the end of the global conflict and his eventual embrace of evangelical Christianity. More artful than many faith-motivated movies, “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” (Pure Flix) sees likable Samuel Hunt taking over the role of Louie, played in the first movie by Jack O’Connell.
Having survived the downing of his plane over the Pacific, a long period adrift at sea and torturous captivity by the Japanese—events related in Jolie’s picture—Louie, an Air Force bombardier, returns home, goes on the road to sell war bonds and falls for cheerful and devout Florida native Cynthia Applewhite (Merritt Patterson). But all the while he is suffering from what nowadays would be labeled post-traumatic stress disorder.
Troubled by nightmares and visions in which his chief tormentor, Mutsuhiro Watanabe (David Sakurai), nicknamed “The Bird,” returns to haunt him, Louie, unable to find work, falls prey to alcoholism. His prospects worsen still further after his bid to race in the 1948 London Olympics is frustrated by a career-ending injury.
Cynthia is patient and Louie’s older brother, Pete (Bobby Campo), his first running coach, tries to be helpful. But it will take no less a personage than the Rev. Billy Graham himself (played by his grandson Will) to straighten things out.
Catholic viewers may have mixed feelings about the protagonist’s departure from the church in which he was raised. (Early scenes show Louie’s mother saying grace, followed by the sign of the cross, and the family is visited by their priest, though Louie, who blames God for his tribulations, receives the clergyman coldly.) Yet his rejection of Catholicism long preceded his eventual conversion.
Overall, Cronk’s sequel, written by Richard Friedenberg and Ken Hixon, is both appealing in its promotion of faith and forgiveness and suitable for a wide audience.
The film contains mature themes, scenes of domestic violence and a vague scatological reference. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“A Simple Favor” (Lionsgate)
Lurid thriller in which a mild-mannered young widow (Anna Kendrick) strikes up an unlikely friendship with the sophisticated, hard-bitten mother (Blake Lively) of one of her son’s classmates. But when her new pal mysteriously disappears and she tries to track her down, she discovers just how little she really knew about her. Director Paul Feig’s glossy screen version of Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel, which also features Henry Golding as the missing woman’s husband, is undeniably ingenious. Yet the dark doings, both past and present, that drive the plot involve repellent behavior that, while not exactly endorsed by Jessica Sharzer’s script, is not condemned either. Instead, the taboo-breaking is treated as spice to lure jaded viewers. Gunplay and other violence with little gore, drug use, strong sexual content, including a semi-graphic scene of incest and an off-screen aberrant act, brief rear female and partial nudity, about a half dozen uses of profanity, pervasive rough and frequent crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“White Boy Rick” (Columbia)
Somber fact-based drama, set in 1980s Detroit, chronicling the unlikely adventures of Rick Wershe (Richie Merritt) who, at the age of 14, became the youngest FBI informant in history, posing as a drug dealer. He then went on to sell narcotics for real in an attempt to break out of the seemingly endless cycle of poverty in which he, his gun salesman father (Matthew McConaughey), and crack-addicted sister (Bel Powley) were trapped. Intended as a critique of hypocritical federal (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane) and local (Brian Tyree) law enforcement officials as well as of excessively harsh sentencing, director Yann Demange’s gritty slice of working-class life largely ignores the consequences of Wershe’s actions. Additionally, although it celebrates the close bonds Wershe shared both with his dad and his troubled sibling, the film also briefly glamorizes an adulterous relationship, making this fare for the most discerning only. Some gory violence, benignly viewed adultery, drug use, rear and upper female nudity, frequent profanities and a few milder oaths, pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“The Predator” (Fox)
The sixth film appearance of the eponymous creature from outer space, directed and co-written by Shane Black, features predictable mayhem and bloodshed, but also unwelcome vulgarity and tasteless humor, making this questionable viewing even for grown-ups. An army ranger (Boyd Holbrook) encounters the creature and steals its helmet and armor, which are decoded by his autistic son (Jacob Tremblay). An invasion is imminent, and the ranger cobbles together a rag-tag group of veterans (Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera and Trevante Rhodes) and a scientist (Olivia Munn) to save the planet, while a government agent (Sterling K. Brown) has other plans. Graphic bloody violence and gore, images of full nudity, vulgar sexual humor, pervasive profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“God Bless the Broken Road” (Freestyle)
Evangelical drama in which an Afghan War widow (Lindsay Pulsipher) and her young daughter (Makenzie Moss) both benefit from the upbeat presence in their lives of a racecar driver (Andrew W. Walker). As Mom struggles to regain her faith and pay the bills, the speedster grapples with his inability to slow down on the curves. Honorable but rather insipid, director and co-writer Harold Cronk’s film, inspired by a country music song, is suitable for a wide audience. How much of an impression it will leave on viewers of any age is another question. Mature themes and stylized combat violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Jennifer Garner goes on the rampage in this gory, over-the-top revenge fantasy, directed by Pierre Morel. Garner plays a mild-mannered Los Angeles housewife whose mechanic husband (Jeff Hephner) flirts with, but backs out of, a scheme to rob a local drug kingpin (Juan Pablo Raba) only to have the gangster order his rubout anyway, a crime during which their 10-year-old daughter (Cailey Fleming) is also slain. Though she identifies the assassins, the fix is in at their trial and they walk free, after which she goes underground and transforms herself into a gun-toting, martial arts-skilled killing machine. Her slaughter spree eventually draws the attention of two of the LAPD officers (John Ortiz and John Gallagher Jr.) involved in her original case and that of the FBI (represented, most prominently, by Annie Ilonzeh) as well. Screenwriter Chad St. John tries to paper over the heroine’s wrongdoing by making her the champion of the denizens of L.A.’s skid row on whose behalf she improbably rids the area of crime. But the primary objects of her attention remain the criminals and corrupt officials who robbed her of justice, and she tortures and terminates them with aplomb. A benign view of vigilantism, excessive bloody violence, drug use, a few profanities, at least one milder oath, pervasive rough and much crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“The Nun” (Warner Bros.)
Made with a big budget, this fifth film in “The Conjuring” franchise pulls out all the stops in an attempt to rank as the “That’s Entertainment!” of Catholic-themed horror films. But a surfeit of questionable elements, including the tasteless treatment of a relic deserving the deepest possible reverence, makes this inappropriate for many. A creepy white-faced demon nun (Bonnie Aarons) skitters through catacomb tunnels and pops out of the darkness in an ancient, sprawling Romanian abbey for a nice series of jump-scares. A priest (Damian Birchir) and, unlikely as it seems, a cheerful novice (Taissa Farmiga) are dispatched by Vatican officials to investigate. The remainder of the movie consists of the familiar Catholic shtick of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the self-styled lay exorcism “authorities” of decades ago, lifted, by director Corin Hardy and screenwriter Gary Dauberman, to the heights of the old-time Hammer Studios horror outings. Navigating the close boundary line between sacred and profane, sometimes without success, the movie is likely to make grown viewers of faith slightly uncomfortable, to say the least. As for young and impressionable moviegoers, they should steer clear altogether Occult themes, the misguided use of a sacred object, a scene of suicide, some physical violence and gore, a single rough term. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“Searching” (Screen Gems)
Gripping thriller in which a doting widowed father (John Cho) discovers he knows less about his teen daughter’s (Michelle La) life than he thought after she mysteriously disappears, and he has to aid the detective on the case (Debra Messing) by investigating the high schooler’s online social interaction for clues about her fate. The trail takes a number of surprising twists and turns, at least one of which places this off-limits for most younger moviegoers. Grown-ups will likely appreciate the clever way director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty incorporates current technology into the plot of his feature debut as well as the script’s subtle but touching affirmation of family life in the face of death and grief. Possibly acceptable for older teens. Mature themes, including suspicions of incest, images of and references to drug use, a mild oath, at least one rough and a few crude terms, a single crass expression. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
After becoming the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the early 1970s, a rookie cop (John David Washington) is first assigned to infiltrate a lecture by ex-Black Panther Kwame Ture—born Stokely Carmichael—(Corey Hawkins), then casually manages to contact the local Ku Klux Klan by phone, impersonating a potential member. As he falls for the militant head (Laura Harrier) of the student group that sponsored the Ture event, he and a Jewish fellow officer (Adam Driver) successfully carry on the masquerade with the Klan, even hoodwinking its then-leader, David Duke (Topher Grace). Director and co-writer Spike Lee has a field day with this richly ironic, fact-based mix of drama and comedy, adapted from the 2014 memoir “Black Klansman” by Ron Stallworth, though less self-indulgent editing and a subtler application of the film’s lessons to the contemporary political situation would have helped. Still, this is an effective and often entertaining look at the vicious racism lurking at the fringes of American life and perpetually aspiring to enter its mainstream. Brief but sometimes disturbing scenes of violence, mature themes, including racial animus, about a dozen profanities and half as many milder oaths, pervasive rough and crude language, frequent racial slurs, fleeting sexual references, an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.