In 2014’s “God’s Not Dead,” Christian filmmaker Harold Cronk set out not only to prove the existence of a higher power but also to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the “tolerant” left by inventing a philosophy professor who insists his students deny God to pass his class.
In debater’s parlance, the film is a classic straw-man argument. That is, it misrepresents the opposing position to make it easier to tear down, and so “God’s Not Dead” became just another preaching-to-the-choir moment in our endless culture war.
Cronk’s latest effort, “God Bless the Broken Road,” takes a different approach to competing world views: It pretends they don’t exist.
We first meet military wife Amber (Lindsay Pulsipher) explaining to her young daughter that, yes, she has to go to church even when she doesn’t feel like it, because “it’s what we do.” But when her husband is killed in Afghanistan, Amber finds herself facing financial ruin and, understandably, unleashes her anger at God.
Will she find her way back to the church? Of course she will. And along the way to its inevitable happy ending, the film genuflects to icons of red-state culture — country music and stock car racing — with a subplot about a racecar driver-slash-love interest (Andrew W. Walker as Cody Jackson, ugh) that amounts to a Christian version of “Days of Thunder.”
Just to be clear: “God Bless the Broken Road” would be just as bad a film if it were set in, say, an Orthodox Jewish community, rather than the Bible Belt (specifically Kentucky). Like nine out of 10 faith-based films, it lets the message crowd out the other elements of good art: character development, thematic complexity, even basics such as a compelling conflict.
After nearly two hours of plodding storytelling, and despite an affecting performance by Pulsipher, we know nothing about Amber other than her difficult circumstances and maybe the fact that she likes Rascal Flatts and Scrabble. And the world she lives in is equally gauzy, filled with good-willed people of faith who, except maybe for her mean boss, all have her best interests at heart.
In other words, “God Bless the Broken Road” misrepresents red-state America as much as “God’s Not Dead” misrepresents academia. Racial conflict? Not in this version of Kentucky, where Amber’s best friends are women of color (Jordin Sparks and Robin Givens), and so is the preacher at her church, even though the congregation is 95 percent white. Not that that never happens, but it sure doesn’t resonate with what’s happening in America in 2018.
Heck, even the racing scenes are cleaned up, with nary a red Solo cup in sight.
This refusal to deal with complexities of the real world means the biggest problem with the film isn’t what it has to say, but what it leaves unquestioned. The biggest example: Why exactly is it that a woman whose husband made the ultimate sacrifice for his country can’t afford to pay her mortgage? This is, of course, a political issue, but Cronk and his co-writers treat Amber’s financial storm as if it were a natural disaster, something capricious and unavoidable, rather than a result of, say, government failing to do right by its veterans and their families.
The death of Amber’s husband is treated much the same. In piously saluting military service, the film never examines what he died for, and whether it was worth it. Soldiering is good and noble, always and forever, period. At least if you’re an American.
Like going to church, “It’s what we do.”
‘God Bless the Broken Road’
Entertainment Studios Motion Picturespresents a film directed by Harold Cronk and written by Cronk and Jennifer Dornbush. Rated PG (for thematic elements and some combat action). Running time: 111 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.