Cast: Stephen A. Elkins, Ashley Bratcher, Alex Ryan Brown, Nick Caldwell, David Dittmeier, Amanda Joy Erickson, Andrew Flagg, Jeremy Gauna, Eddie T. Gomez, Jourin Hannah, Micah Lynn Hanson, Ryan T. Johnson, Wayne Matychuk, Willie Mellina, Nathan D. Myers, Jeff Pearson, Darrell Philip, Sophie Proctor, William Row, Nicolas Shook, Todd Terry, Kevin Toy, Colton Vaughn, Kimberly Gail Williams, Tim Ross, Richard Swingle, Michael W. Smith
Plot summary: Follows the trajectory of George Washington as a boy and a young man as he develops his relationships and ideals.
A random small town is apparently falling apart due to the local factory closing down, and this decimates a Christian private school’s basketball team and sends the coach spiraling. When he already doesn’t even know what he’s going to do about a team, his superior, the principal, forces him to coach a one-girl cross-country team even though she has asthma! Along the way, he stumbles into a random hospital room containing someone who has surprising connections to the plot! Will he ever learn who he really is in Christ beyond just being a coach?
Production Quality (2 points)
Okay, so, what exactly was this $5 million budget spent on? Much of the production is fairly uninspiring. As usual for the Kendricks, it’s fine and mostly professional-looking, but for reals…all we get from this dollar amount is a bunch of vanilla sets, props, and locations mostly pertaining to people’s houses, a school campus, and lots of running\training footage? The decade-plus career of the brothers who brought Christian film out of the dark ages culminates with this? Besides the overall blah-ness of the layout, tons of time is wasted on nothing special in this film, and the editing seems very disjointed and disorganized. However, much of this could be due to the lack of any substantial plot content…
Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
…which makes us wonder what the story actually is here. What are we supposed to focus on? The less than half-an-hour treatise on small towns falling apart? Five minutes of basketball footage? Alex Kendrick getting angry and throwing things? A runner with asthma? A random guy in a hospital? In all actuality, the blind man in the hospital bed is the most worthwhile subplot of the entire film, and it keeps this section from being abysmal, yet we only hear this part of the story through spoken word rather than via effective flashbacks. The only way to fix this film would be the focus entirely on this part of the story (the past and present narratives of the blind man and his interactions with other side characters) through a non-linear plot style. However, we don’t get this in Overcomer as we’re instead left with a very disjointed and disorganized storyline that gives us no opportunity to get to know the characters except that Alex Kendrick’s character is an almost-perfect white guy who has to save a non-white girl. Therein, there are many disturbing themes, such as the white family being overly good as they help the ‘bad’ African American girl; it goes without saying that a very disturbing plot point involves the school principal telling the coach to aid said minority minor in going around and lying to her legal guardian in basically illegal fashions. These actions are painted as good and never receive any consequences because the white characters can do no wrong. It’s too bad that the cross-country athlete character never stood a chance with the poor dialogue written for her character…she’s essentially programmed to respond to the prompts of her Caucasian helpers with little thought of her own. Elsewhere, old Kendrick humor is dying a slow and painful death as cringe-worthy attempts at comedy litter the already-confusing landscape of this storyline. In the end, it’s very difficult to think this plot had any other goals besides pushing propaganda and some kind of weird suburban version of Christianity.
Acting Quality (1.5 points)
The Kendricks can choose literally anyone to be in their films; some cast members would do it for free, yet Alex insists on continually casting himself in lead roles he can’t pull off. He and Shari Rigby crowd out the runtime of Overcomer with bland and forgettable performances that drown out better skills from supporting (non-white) cast members who are barely given a chance to do anything. For instance, Priscilla Shirer and Cameron Arnett have plenty of acting skills, but we don’t see them as often as we see awkward white people. Aryn Wright-Thompson probably has something to offer if she was ever given a shot to do something besides robotically repeat stale lines. In the end, this section is fine, but it punctuates a surprisingly bad effort from the Kendricks.
Minus the unusual racial undertones and the bizarre condoning of illegal actions, Overcomer is basically a run-of-the-mill church film with a sports twist. Even without the glaring issues, however, this still wouldn’t be acceptable based on where the Kendricks are in the careers. They are basically at the pinnacle of success, coming off their most successful film (War Room), so their budget and advertising resources are clearly vast. They can hire and cast whoever they wish, including actual screenwriters, yet they decided to settle for a well-produced version of Flywheel combined with the worst racial stereotypes found in Courageous to create a blandly vague idea that focuses on forcing messages down the audience’s throats. In the end, it appears as though their refusal to reach out and try different collaborations is causing them to fade into the background of an industry they helped save from the brink.
Pendragon: The Sword of His Father was one of the most under-funded productions that showed the most potential. Thankfully, this potential was fulfilled in Beyond the Mask, but there were some things that could have improved Pendragon. In many ways, it seems like Pendragon was filmed over a long period of time, with each part of the movie having a different level of production quality. Despite the very low funding, the Burns family did their best to make the most out of what they had, which is all we really ask for. For example, the construction and engineering of the complex battle sets and props was impressive. However, video quality and lighting were very inconsistent throughout, and a lot of the audio quality was reworked in post. Essentially, all this production needed was better funding, which the Burns family had in Beyond the Mask, so they followed through on their potential.
Plot and Storyline Improvements
Pendragon is one of deepest and most complex plots we have ever reviewed, especially since it was based on a long historical account. Unfortunately, the Burns were forced to cram almost four hours of epic content into two hours, which was still an impressive amount of time for an indie film. Even so, we feel like Pendragon could have been a two-part miniseries had the funding been there. The characters barely reach their full potential, and their epic journey across time is barely captured in this limited window we are offered. There is so much more that could have been done here if the budget had permitted. The first part could have been about the captivity of Artos and his escape, while the second part could have focused on his redemption. There are so many possibilities here, so maybe one day, we will get a remake?
Unfortunately, the casting and acting is by far the biggest detractor of Pendragon. Obviously, cast options were limited, so their hands were tied. The good thing is that casting got a major upgrade in Beyond the Mask, including the employment of an acting coach. Still, if Pendragon were remade, we would need an entirely new cast. As a side note, however, Marilyn Burns is a great costume designer.
The Burns family followed the indie film model perfectly: they began with an under-funded production that was rescued by a deep and complex plot and were given a greater opportunity to go further in Beyond the Mask. Now, all that’s missing is a follow-up film (wink wink). They are a creative team with loads of potential, just waiting to break out. If they are ever offered a full theater release and distribution contract, then Christian film will never be the same again.
Every year, movies are released and cast members show off their talents. Writers and directors showcase their creativity. Films are separated into roughly three groups: the truly talented, the potentially great, and the others. At Box Office Revolution, we believe it is our prerogative to annually recognize those movie makers and players who have the ability to bring revolution to Christian entertainment.
Artos Pendragon, captured by the barbaric Saxons as a young man, only has one goal in mind: to save his home, the Isle of Britannia, from the invading Saxon forces as the Dark Ages fall upon ancient Europe. Afforded the opportunity to escape his captors, he is helped by a mysterious seer who reminds him of his family’s Christian heritage and gives him a new hope by telling him to go to a fortress city on the island where King Ambrosia is building a new army to beat back the Saxons from their nation. Artos begins a new life there are refocuses on the vision God has laid upon his heart: free the people of Britannia from the Saxon oppression. Little does he know the intrigue, conspiracy, and battles that await him.
Production Quality (2 points)
For a very low budget production, Pendragon does the best it can with what it has. The Burns production crew was quite inexperienced at this point, so they must be given a chance. The production quality improves as the movie progresses, including the video quality and the camera work. Some of the battles scenes are well done, but some are not. The costuming and the sets are very complex and should be applauded when the small budget is considered. The overarching issue with Pendragon’s production is the large amount of poorly overdubbed lines that are inserted into many outdoor scenes. Overall, in their debut film, the Burns crew has shown that they have a lot of potential and can do even better with more funding.
Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)
The plot of Pendragon is extremely complex. In a noble effort to avoid narration, there are a lot of understated elements that need to be explored more. Though the film is over two hours, it could have been longer due to the sheer amount of content that is portrayed. Multiple characters have interesting arcs that need to be further developed. This is not a simple action plot, as it is filled with twists and turns. The ending is justified due to its historical genre. Overall, the driving point of the film needs to be better highlighted and the plot needs to be expanded, if at all possible. Once again, this is difficult to do without proper funding, and Box Office Revolution feels that Burns did the best they could with what they had.
Acting Quality (.5 point)
This is the most detracting element of the movie. If the acting was improved, this movie would greatly improve. It is evident that many of the main actors are members of the production crew and that this is their first major acting venture. While there is little to no acting coaching and the best actor has a very small role in the film, they must once again be given clemency, given that they had little money to work with.
Pendragon has a mammoth potential, enough to be a two-part epic movie or multi-part miniseries, due to its highly complex plot and untapped character arcs. But alas, poor funding often derails great intentions in the world of independent Christian film-making. However, the good news is that Burns did not settle for less in their sophomore film, Beyond the Mask, which indicates that we can expect even greater things from them in the near future. The Christian movie scene desperately needs studios like the Burns, who will flip the script and bring new genres of Christian films to the table.
Elizabeth Jordan, on the surface, has an ideal life—a good job, an expensive house, a husband with a high salary, and a nice daughter. However, something isn’t right, something is just missing. She can’t really seem to get along with her husband anymore, he seems distant and preoccupied with other women, and she barely knows her daughter anymore. Everything changes for Elizabeth when she meets her new realty client, Miss Clara. Miss Clara subtlety pricks into Elizabeth’s personal life just enough to make Elizabeth interested in finding out what Miss Clara’s secret to happiness is. After talking long enough, Elizabeth discovers that her life is not alright and that Miss Clara’s secret weapon is worth a try. The secret weapon? A war room, or a prayer closet. Miss Clara teaches Elizabeth to fight for herself and for her family on her knees so that God can fight for her rather than her fighting for herself. Little did they know that the battle had only begun.
Production Quality (3 points)
In the same vein as Courageous, the production quality of War Room is high. Despite this being the first Kendrick movie away from Sherwood Baptist Church, nothing in the area of production quality changed between Courageous and War Room. While there are no real action scenes in War Room, the diversity of sets is still present. The soundtrack fits into the film neatly. The editing and the production give the movie a close to home feel, which seems to be what the creators were going for. In short, this is business as usual for the Kendricks.
Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)
The plot of War Room follows a typical non-linear Kendrick plot with minor twists and turns—one that defies conventional plot structure. In the beginning, the plot depicts realistic struggles of accessible characters paired with a clear Christian message, which is a hallmark of the Kendrick brand. Dialogue is mostly effective in building character motive and driving character arcs, and the message is obviously a powerful one, but there is a point where the storyline of this film overstays its welcome through multiple moments that seem like the end and through stop-and-start sequences that lag on a bit too long with the purpose of driving home how the characters have become seemingly perfect. Thus, while there is plenty of good in this plot and while there is no doubt of the film’s success, we needed a bit more realism in the arcs of the characters. However, the message of War Room is still worthwhile.
Acting Quality (2.5 points)
In the first movie away from the Sherwood acting pool, there are no concerns here. The actors behave just as all actors do under the tutelage of a Kendrick movie crew. The delivery of lines is solid and the emotions are believable. This type of movie is heavily dependent on the acting quality, and they did not disappoint. A continued under-appreciated aspect of Kendrick films is their commitment to diversity of casting. This is huge, since Christian movies should be better than mainstream movies.
The Kendricks have a brand, and they are sticking with it. War Room feels like a redux of Fireproof with better cast members and a less textbook message, but the up-and-down career of the Kendricks continues in this rendition. They know their audience, they have the marketing skills down, and they have the name recognition to basically do whatever they want from here on out and still have box office success. War Room takes another spot on the Hall of Fame, but we have to wonder if the Kendricks will branch out in their post-Sherwood career or if they will continue to churn out more high-quality but safe films. We are banking on the latter, but we will be looking for them to do something more creative in their next film.