Finding Grace (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Alaska Rose has been a troubled youth ever since her mother left her life. Allie has gotten in and out of trouble, but now that she’s 18, the stakes have risen since a judge has ordered her to complete community service and to avoid run-ins with the law in order to avoid prison. Hence, Allie has been tasked with volunteering at a nursing home, which she immediately hates. However, as time goes, Allie discovers things about herself and about those around her that change her perspective on life.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

All throughout, Finding Grace is uneven in the production department, including some shaky camera work and poor audio quality, such as obvious background sounds and a generic soundtrack. While the sets, locations, and props are mostly okay, some of the lighting in scenes in inconsistent. Also, there is a lack of logical transitions between scenes and quick, abrupt cuts that make for a choppy editing experience. Although there is some improvement as the production progresses, it doesn’t do enough to get past the halfway mark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

From start to finish, Finding Grace has a mostly typical premise and is based on very stereotypical characters due to vanilla dialogue and predictable circumstances. Most things done in this film have been done and seen before, yet it’s hard to understand what the purpose of some of the characters is. Many of the scenes are very vague and black such that they don’t properly present the story in way that the viewer can clearly understand. This makes it difficult to comprehend the actual point of the narrative and the focus of the plot since it just feels like a random collection of instances strung together for the sake of making a movie. The storytelling is all over the map since some characters have erratic personality changes and lack justification for some of their actions. However, after some sermonizing and meandering, the final third of the film tries to pull itself out of the nosedive by inventing important character motive out of thin air. It’s unfortunate that the idea behind why the characters act the way they do is actually very believable and well-concealed until its reveal since it was completely wasted on a train wreck movie that many audiences will give up on after about twenty minutes. Further, the screenplay concludes with some rather suspect legal procedures, which caps off a wasted effort.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Besides the other concerns with Finding Grace, many of the cast members force their emotional and line deliveries throughout the movie, and many lines actually come off as mumbled rather than clearly spoken. While it’s likely not their fault, a lot of the actors and actresses don’t seem to really understand what type of characters they are playing as they post lackadaisical and disingenuous performances that demonstrated boredom for the whole experience. However, based on the hacked-together script they were given, it’s very difficult to blame them. There is some potential in this section, which keeps it from being zero, but it overall puts the icing on a very bad cake.

Conclusion

While it’s evident that this film’s creators had an interesting idea concealed somewhere in this mess, this was one of the worst possible ways to package it. Even the best concepts can be greatly ruined by bad storytelling, which is the tale of Finding Grace. This fact, combined with the unforced production and acting errors, make for a very disappointing experience and can only be used as an example of how not to make a movie.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

Vindication, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Detective Travis always wants to bring the criminals of his small Texas town to justice. However, he’s not always right, and he can’t do it all on his own, despite what he believes about himself. Through every twist and turn of each case, the detective learns something new about himself and about life, but the ultimate challenge of his work and life involves his daughter and her checkered past. Thus, when she comes to stay with him and his wife, he’s sure she’s got something to hide. However, he could have never foreseen the end result of this.

Production Quality (1.5 points)
For a relatively low-budget series, Vindication is definitely trying when it comes to production. The video quality is great throughout, and the camera work is respectable. Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, but the audio is sometimes too quiet. At first, there’s basically no soundtrack, but this tends to improve as the series goes on. While there are some creative story overlays and plot criss-crossing throughout, the editing can be fairly choppy at times. Sometimes, scenes start and stop at awkward places, and some portions seem unnecessary. However, this element also tends to improve with time. In the end, this is an average production that shows commendable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
What an absolute roller coaster of a storyline. It’s difficult to know where to begin with this; in the first two-thirds of the series, many of the cases are either fairly unrealistic or extremely simplistic. Some contain improbable circumstances just for the sake, it seems, of being unique and tricky. Others contain lots of coincidences and convenient turns; many of them include partially or mostly inappropriate content seemingly just because. While being edgy and realistic is a good quality to have in Christian entertainment (rather than white-washing humanity), there’s a fine line to walk between authentic and trashy. As a side note, some of the ‘crimes’ that are actually ‘twists’ are substantially questionable and borderline ‘vindicate’ the wrong types of behavior. Elsewhere, the suspense elements don’t seem to jive with reality even though there are some interesting psychological elements throughout. Besides the head-scratching partially objectionable content included, the treatment of police ethics and criminal procedure throughout the series would be offensive to many real police officers. Rules are callously broken with no resource, and while it would be one thing to portray a rogue cop in a negative light for the purpose of being realistic, it’s another thing to downright condone unethical practices in the name of doing the right thing, including mixing personal vendettas against certain people and in favor of family members with police work. The detectives’ time is spent on petty misunderstandings that would likely draw the attention of higher authorities due to their frivolous use of resources and questionable methods of arresting people with little reasonable suspicion. These two major problem areas (inappropriate content and offensive portrayal of procedure) are almost enough to totally derail the series from the get-go, especially when these issues are combined with a lot of blank and empty dialogue and cheap Christian messaging throughout the first two-thirds of the season. Odd portrayals of women and minorities throughout the series are also concerns to contend with, but the recurring subplot between the main character and his daughter keep the narrative on life support long enough to get to the final two episodes of the season, which almost save the writers from themselves. It’s clear that the entire series was made for this storyline, and the daughter is the only notably interesting character in the entire creation. The last two episodes are so starkly different from the other ones (except for the disregard for jurisdiction and other questionable practices in the name of being police with agendas) that it seems like an entirely different idea, yet the thinly-developed characters still shine through due to their lack of depth in the first eight episodes. Had they been properly built in the first two-thirds of the season via real cases and authentic circumstances, we would be looking at a totally different concept. As they are, the last two installments include very effective flashbacks that take a good look at hard issues effecting many people. In doing so, the final ‘villain’ is fairly realistic, and the partial conclusion of the subplot between the father and daughter is mostly authentic and believable. Nevertheless, despite the acceptable ending, it doesn’t cover over the multitude of sins committed by the rest of the storyline.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)
Acting isn’t a glaring problem throughout the series even if many cast members come off as very robotic and overly practiced. However, this is likely not a talent problem or a coaching issue because the lines they are given are usually uninspiring. This is evident since acting seems to improve as dialogue gets a slight upgrade in the latter third of the season. Although makeup is terrible at first, this seems to get better too. The key standout performance from every episode she’s in comes from Emma Elle Roberts as she sets herself apart as a truly talented actress with potential beyond this series. In the end, this is neither the best nor the worst acting from a Christian season.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)
As previously mentioned, the only significant continuity throughout season one of Vindication involves the storylines of the central character’s family, especially his interactions with his daughter and her checkered past. However, these recurring subplots are fairly good in the midst of a mostly typical recurring crime drama style. Still, it would have been preferable to see some other interwoven subplots that were worthwhile to follow.

Conclusion

The creators of Vindication are trying to do something, but there are too many elements of season one that are way off base. The use of edgy content is commendable for a crime series, but it would be nice to see better standards of propriety when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics. For another, a lot of significant research needs to be conducted before anyone creates a drama centered around criminal procedure and police work because it can be easy to make careless mistakes. Further, there needs to be a better look at mental and behavioral health issues beyond simplifying them and reducing them to trite Christian sayings and prayers. In the end, this concept may work better as a larger-scale federal investigative storyline rather than confining it to a small town with unusual half-mysteries. To summarize, the creators have potential somewhere in here, but there’s too much blocking out the light.

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points