No matter your opinion of Christian films or, specifically, church-made films like Facing the Giants, Fireproof and To Save a Life, one thing is clear: They are inspiring other churches and Christians to make their own films and tell their own stories. Such is the case for The Grace Card.
David Evans from Calvary Church in Cordova, Tennessee (a Memphis suburb), saw Fireproof (made by Sherwood Baptist Church) and thought, "We could do that too." Serving as director and executive producer, Evans led the church's creative arts team in anchoring a cast and crew of relative rookies by recruiting an experienced screenwriter, Howard Klausner (Space Cowboys), and sending their script to veteran actor Louis Gossett, Jr. (whose recent resume includes Christian films like Left Behind: World at War and The Least Among You).
What might be surprising is that former Oscar winner Gossett—who has a small role here—does not turn in the film's best performance. Or that the writing does not stand out from other Christian movies. Instead, the film's greatest strength is the dynamic performances of its two newcomer lead actors, Michael Joiner and Michael Higgenbottom.
At the film's center is Bill "Mac" McDonald (Joiner), an embittered cop still fighting through the pain and regret of his young son's death nearly 17 years ago. The casualties of his pain include his wife Sara and another son, Blake, who also carry years of burden. Everything is falling apart for Mac: He continues to be passed over for promotion, his marriage is a shell of true relationship, and Blake is experimenting with drugs and failing his senior year of high school. And in Mac's view, the bad news got worse when he is forced to partner with the guy who got promoted in his place, Sam Wright (Higgenbottom). For the normally solitary Mac, having to share his squad car is bad enough, but even worse for him is that Sam is black and a vocal Christian. Mac already has bigoted attitudes about African-Americans since it was a black man who killed (accidentally) his son all those years ago. And he certainly doesn't want to be preached at. Sam, who is pastoring a young church on the side, is all of that rolled up in one.
As a faith-based film, it's not hard to guess where this is going or that it includes the Christian movie staple of a climatic prayer of salvation. In many ways, the movie is awfully predictable. You'll see the big plot points coming, and they're laid on thick. But when the movie is closely focused on the character drama of the two cops, it is powerful and emotional. Joiner and Higgenbottom are very good. I left the movie wishing for more scenes between the two of them, just to see these characters interact. To see their continued conflict and their budding friendship, to see them sharpen each other as iron on iron. That is where The Grace Card excels.
Another refreshing aspect: The film isn't focused on a messy unsaved person and a Christian on a white horse riding in to save him. Pastor Sam is a likeable, solid Christian man who has his struggles. He questions his path: Is he a cop? A pastor? Both? Sam also wrestles with his relationship with Mac. He despises Mac, and knows Mac hates him for his skin color. He doesn't want to be around Mac—let alone witness to him.