Review by Adam Donato
From the director of xXx: Return of Xander Cage comes a period piece romance about a woman trying to escape her life of abuse and tragedy. Redeeming Love is based on a novel of the same name by Francine Rivers, a woman. The film is written and directed by D.J. Caruso, a man. The review could honestly end right there.
Everything that happens in this movie is incredibly depressing and tragic. Even the parts that are supposed to feel good don’t feel quite right. Angel was bought and sexually abused as a child. As she grew older, she worked in a brothel to slowly pay off her debt so she could be free. The majority of the movie, Angel is understandably numb as her life is a tragedy in every sense. One day, a nice farmer sees her and decides that she is the one. Despite her reluctance, he buys several nights with her and even pays off her debt so he can marry her. Angel feels like she will always be who she once was and is unable to move on.
Rape is an extremely uncomfortable subject and even experiencing it in suggested ways is gut wrenching. Good thing this ship is helmed by a man so audiences can truly understand what it must feel like to be a woman in this situation. The other half of the movie is watching the nice farmer relentlessly try to win the heart of this emotionally unavailable woman. While he is unwavering, she is the exact opposite. She likes him, but thinks he’s weird because he won’t have sex with her. She wants to escape with him, but is uncomfortable about her debt situation. He nurses her back to health, she tries to walk 20 miles to leave him. They share a cute moment watching the sunrise, she leaves with his brother. The romance in the movie feels repeatedly nonconsensual, despite his insistence that they not have sex.
Let’s talk about sex. This is a faith based movie, right? The novel was inspired by a story from the Old Testament. The nice farmer is constantly talking about his faith. She is the opposite as she talks about how she questions a God that would allow such awful things to happen. Regardless, there’s a lot of sex in this movie. Softcore porn-esque sex. Even the poster, in that scene and in that moment they are having sex. There’s abusive sex, prostitutional sex, consensual sex and we see a lot of it for a PG-13 movie. It’s just weird that your Christian movie has an abundance of sex in it. At what age would parents think it’s acceptable to show their teens this movie? It's not educational, the themes are problematic, the subject matter is explicit, oh and it’s also not good. Probably, in part, because it’s directed by a man who makes big, dumb action movies and is named D.J.
The message of the movie is, to put it politely, muddled. Having this be a tale of romance and unconditional love is weird. The tragic things that happened to Angel are real things that women experience. Why not make a movie about how a woman overcomes this autonomously? Why force in this romance that is clearly not desired by Angel for the overwhelming majority of the movie? Can she not succeed without a man saving her? He paid her debt, but being forced into a situation where you feel obligated to marry him is uncomfortable. The nice farmer makes it clear that he doesn’t want to use her for sex. All he does is shower her with love and kindness. It is repeated that it’s important to him that she chooses him. The film does an exceedingly poor job of making the resolution to this plot feel satisfying. Parents would understandably feel anxious about what ideas their young adult left this movie with.
This movie isn’t made for teenage girls, one might argue. Then who is it for? It’s too raunchy for the faith based crowd to enjoy. The romance encapsulates the poster, but is arguably not the most important plot thread in the film. Angel breaks out of this oppressive and abusive life that she was forced into and finds a way to allow herself to come to peace with her past and move forward. She does this in part through her “romance” with the nice farmer, but the quotation marks around the word romance clearly indicate that the romance in the movie is not effective. It’s not a good movie so it’s not for cinephiles. That leaves older audiences. The type of person who has nothing but time on their hands and a movie theater subscription. “It’s January, what’s in theaters? Nothing except Redeeming Love? Well, I could enjoy a nap!” Enjoy that two hour and fifteen minute nap, good sir. That’s right, this movie that accomplishes so little, does so in over two hours. To the couple that sees Redeeming Love in theaters instead of Scream because she doesn’t like scary movies, RIP.
Redeeming quality, Logan Marshall Green. He seems like he doesn’t fit in the movie until you realize he’s the only actor that is really trying. His character has the only interesting arc and his scenes with Angel hold the most weight. The “special appearance” by Famke Janssen, which is an odd way to label her role in the movie, is fine. She plays Duchess and is a villain for the first act or so of the movie. Tom Lewis as Michael the nice farmer is creepy and weird, but that might be more of the writing. Abigail Cowen as Angel is solid. There’s a couple scenes where she gets in a man’s face and tells them why they ain’t shit. It’s just satisfying to see this woman go unhinged on her abusers.
Just to hammer home the thesis of this review: a story that was written by a woman and is about the struggle of a woman, a struggle that is exclusive to women, is written and directed by a man. Not a high-end and prestigiously artistic man, but a man that is currently rumored to be directing the next G.I. Joe movie. Redeeming Love fails to understand what the driving force of the story actually is. The romance is cringey and almost unnecessary. It’s a faith based movie that will have parents covering their young adult’s eyes more often than not. Nothing in this movie works particularly well. The subject matter and the bloated run time make for an enduring experience. Steer clear of this misguided disaster.
Redeeming Love hits theaters on January 21.