James never intended to become a bad man, but he slowly slipped into a destructive lifestyle after his wife tragically died. After losing custody of his daughter and being convicted of crime, James finds himself desperate for cash. He agrees to help a ‘buddy’ out by hauling unknown cargo across the country to an unknown buyer, no questions asked. But just before he reaches his destination, curiosity gets the best of him and he breaks the lock to see what is inside the box truck he has been driving for days. Inside, he finds two young women in squalid condition and is faced with the ultimate moral choice: does he complete the job for the cash or does he break protocol and face consequences?
Production Quality (3 points)
It is refreshing and encouraging that there are new Christian film makers coming onto the scene every year to contribute to a growing army of creative minds ready to redeem the field once and for all. 2016 has been a year for many film makers to try to make their mark, but Priceless stands alone from them all, starting with exquisite production quality. Shot on location (there’s a concept!) with professional camera work and angles, Priceless has all the goods. Video quality is excellent, including diverse lighting done right. Audio quality is flawless and the original soundtrack is an epic breath of fresh air. Sets and locations are extremely realistic; outdoor scenes are executed well. There are no editing problems. There are few times we have an opportunity to say this: there are no production errors in this film. The production is easily one of the best for a rookie effort.
Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)
Unlike the failed Caged No More, which portrays human trafficking in a far-off location away from ‘safe’ America, Priceless shoves the issue in your face—in the middle of small town America and American suburbia. Though the beginning sequence is a bit rushed and the narration is heavy-handed, there are no errors beyond this. The flawed character arcs are inspiring; we really feel like we can relate to the struggles of the characters. Dialogue is effective in building the excellent storyline, as is the use of flashbacks. The plot itself is very gritty and down to earth; there are no unbelievable elements or plot holes. The Christian message is neither in-your-face nor muted, but is presented tastefully. Edgy elements are handled properly. The creators did all they could do with this plot, including a slight plot twist and an appropriate ending. In short, except for some minor rookie errors, this is a plot to be proud of. It not only presents the human trafficking problem to the audience in a realistic way, but it does so with authentic characters and an engaging storyline. We can’t wait to see more from the Smallbones.
Acting Quality (3 points)
Taking a page from the Kendrick\Erwin playbook, the Smallbone team employed acting coaching and it paid off. Though the cast is small, they carry the movie well. In Priceless, Joel Smallbone finally became vindicated for past uninspiring performances that were likely the consequence of poor leadership in those films. Bianca Santos is a very promising actress for the future. Emotions are very believable and line delivery is on point. Costuming is appropriate. In short, there are no errors here.
Priceless receives an x-factor point for presenting a highly important issue in an exquisite manner. While watching this film, I was reminded that this is why we do what we do. Christian film makers who care use their God-given talents to create movies that make a difference in the culture. Similarly, we feel God has called us to critique the Christian creative so that hopefully the field will improve as a whole. Enslaved girls is why we do this. Lost souls is why we do this. Mobilizing activism is why we do this. Making a difference is why we do this. Under such films as Priceless (and other Hall of Fame films) can we unite for a common cause and no longer remember the days of failed low-quality Christian movies. Budding film makers like Ben Smallbone and his team are lighting the way and giving us hope for a new day in Christian film. Since this is how he has debuted, we cannot wait to see what he has to offer next.
Final Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points