To Save a Life (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jake Taylor is one of the most popular kids in school: he’s a basketball star on track for a big scholarship, and he has the girlfriend everyone wanted. He seems to have friends everywhere, but he’s chosen to ignore the only friend he had in middle school because it’s not cool to hang around him anymore. However, this appears to lead to his old friend becoming suicidal and bringing a gun to school one day in an apparent last-ditch attempt for help. In the fallout of the tragedy, Jake and his friends try to get back to normal, but they seem to sink deeper into their vices as a response to the trauma. What is the true purpose of life, and is it possible for high school to have meaning?

Production Quality (2 points)

As an early 2000s production, To Save a Life is good despite some minor missteps. For one, the flashback sequences, while great to include, sometimes come off as a bit disorienting and invasive as they tend to jump back and forth too much and use disruptive flashing effects. In a similar vein, some montages are a bit confusing and protracted in length, especially since they take up time that could have been used on other things. However, there are plenty of positives to note about this production, For one, the soundtrack is fairly good, and the camera work is professionally artistic even if there is some wild zooming and cutting during suspenseful scenes. Nonetheless, much of the production elements improve as time goes on, and video quality, sets, locations, and props are all great in each part of the film. As a whole, the editing is good enough considering how much content is in the story and how many characters there are, so overall, this is an above average production that’s mostly on the mark and improves with runtime.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Even in the beginning, Brian Baugh was always a master of capturing the real human experience, especially of Millennial coming of age years, as he weaves complex storytelling via raw, realistic topics, effective flashbacks, and accessible characters. To Save a Life is a real and honest look at authentic problems facing teenagers both in high school and in the church. It’s a hard but necessary look at the factors leading to teen suicide and teen substance abuse, among other vices; in doing so, the plot unfolds fairly well without dumping too much information onto the audience in the beginning as plot points are developed gradually. The relationships among the characters are very easy to believe as they feel like real people who do real things with real motivations. The psychological material therein is used in very great ways, and the hard look at problems within the church is refreshing. To Save a Life has a very complex cast of characters that makes it feel more like a series than a movie; because of this, some of the characters arcs are a bit too steep due to lack of adequate development time. Even still, the dialogue is well-constructed as the subplots weave together, but the number of storylines is also the slight undoing of the film as we’d like to see some more backstories and more explorations of the issues rather than trying to cover too much in one film. Because of how many ideas are in one movie, the epilogue and the lead-up to it tend to fix things too quickly and easily without many tangible character consequences. The climax scene is also slightly contrived just to have one and only leads to expository dialogue designed to finish things off. In the end, To Save a Life is a massive mixed bag of content that is both rewarding and disappointing, yet Brian Baugh’s talents are still undeniable in his first movie attempt.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

At first, the acting can come off as a bit awkward, but this also tends to work in the film’s favor. This is really the only nitpick to point out since the cast is overall really good despite its large size. There are quite a few standout roles…even Randy Wayne posts a good one. Due to the sheer number and diversity of cast members, they would have done so well in a series, but alas, this film occurred before the era of Christian streaming. Nevertheless, perhaps something similar to To Save a Life will be crafted in the future.

Conclusion

We would definitely love to see Brian Baugh make a series either like this movie or about something else because some creators are just too big for the big screen. Some creators (see Dallas Jenkins) are better the small screen because series provide much better forums to explore complex characters and subplots. No matter what, Baugh is consistently showing today that he has a profound understanding of people, and with two Hall of Fame entries after To Save a Life (I’m Not Ashamed and The World We Make), the sky is the limit for his creative potential.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Confessions of a Prodigal Son (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Sean Matthews couldn’t wait to strike out on his own and get out from under the confines of being a pastor’s son.  When given half of his inheritance with the stipulation of staying in school, Sean heads off to USC to live the party lifestyle.  He feels like he can do whatever he wants—that is, until he meets Ali, a girl who seems immune to his usual manipulation.  Thus, he pursues her in the hopes of winning her over, even though she is not interested in having a relationship.  They become friends and she changes Sean’s outlook on life.  When Sean comes to a crossroads, he will have to decide which path he wants to take.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Confessions of a Prodigal Son starts out fairly rough, like many freshman productions.  There is a lot of shaky camera work at first, including odd artistic angles, such as filming through crowds and from behind objects, as well as a lot of close-up shots.  However, this seems to improve as the movie goes.  Video quality is relatively stable throughout, but audio quality is another inconsistent factor, as it goes from cheap to quality over the span of ninety minutes.  The soundtrack is too loud at first and some audio is overdubbed, but these issues seem to work themselves out later.  Unfortunately, sets and locations are slightly cheap throughout the movie.  The editing is actually somewhat creative as the story is presented in a semi-out-of-order fashion that enhances interest.  Overall, this production seems to be a learning experience for the Lighting Dark team, which is perfectly reasonable, considering this is their first film.  The good news is that they will likely improve down the road.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The one thing we can say for Confessions of a Prodigal Son is that while the story is somewhat overused and predictable, at least it is presented in a creative and unique fashion.  This rendition of the famous parable will stand out from others because effort was made to be artistic and different.  At first, the narration seems too heavy-handed, but it becomes more justifiable later.  The portrayal of addicts is spot-on in this film, even if the solutions are little shallow.  There seems to be a lot of edgy content simply for the sake of having it and some important issues are treated too simply, probably to fit the story into the designated runtime.  Some characters are cheesy and have character arcs that are too steep, yet there are times when they are surprisingly well-crafted.  Though the messaging is somewhat obvious, it is still at least partially meaningful and is packaged in an artistic fashion that shows potential for the future.  In short, this movie is not all bad and stands out among others like it, which is all we ask for of new film makers.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like other elements in this film, the acting begins fairly rough and inexperienced.  There are some mumbled and slurred lines, yet there are also some overly-enunciated lines.  However, these issues work themselves out over time, like the other issues that were previously pointed out.  Emotions are mostly realistic throughout the film and line delivery certainly improves in the second half.  Overall, it is encouraging to see improvement throughout a movie rather than consistent negativity.

Conclusion

Confessions of a Prodigal Son is a mixed bag that carries with it the potential for greatness.  This is normal for a first-time film, as are the early production struggles.  If production and acting had been consistently professional and if the characters had been a little deeper through better dialogue, this film would have likely been Hall of Fame.  We are always encouraged to see new film makers that are trying to do the right things, so we anticipate greater things from the Lighting Dark team in the future.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points