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

Gallows Road (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When his wife and kids are tragically murdered by local racists, Bob Collins decides that God doesn’t care about him anymore and gives up on his faith.  His brother and family continue to try to get through to him, but all to no avail.  Jake Knight was there the night of the murders and feels guilty about the part he played, even though the corrupt sheriff has pardoned them all.  All of their lives must intersect as they come to grips with the harsh realities of life—and the power of forgiveness and redemption.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

With a modest budget behind it, Gallows Road definitely demonstrated effort in production.  The video quality is good throughout and the camera work is above average.  Audio quality is fairly good and the soundtrack is interesting enough.  Sets and locations are slightly limited and there are some inconsistencies throughout.  As with most independent productions, the biggest problem relates to the lack of editing.  The plot meanders too much with no direction.  Scenes are disjointed and appear to be unrelated to each other.  This will be discussed in depth next.  Basically, the tools are here to make this a great production, but they are not used, thus causing it to be stuck at average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

In an endeavor to be too big of a plot, Gallows Road falls flat.  As previously mentioned, there are too many subplots that have very loose connections to each other.  There’s actually nothing inherently wrong with the subplots themselves, but they need to be synthesized and fleshed out better than they are.  There are actually quite a few profound ideas hidden among this frustrating plotline, but they easily get lost.  The characters of these subplots are intriguing, but we hardly have a chance to get to know any of them as the story skips around so much.  The premise seems a little bit thin at times and needs to be bigger and bolder.  The message of Gallows Road is actually quite powerful, presenting important issues such as broken families, bitterness, racism, and addiction.  Yet these themes needed better packaging in order to drive their point home.  The ending is slightly interesting, but again, it needed more thought put into it.  To sum things up, Gallows Road is sitting on a gold mine of content that failed to be mined.  Some parts are enjoyable, while the rest of them are extremely frustrating.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Despite having the creepiest cast member of all Christian film, the acting of Gallows Road is the strongest part of the film.  A few other cast members definitely need to be replaced, but otherwise, there is a lot of positive here.  Emotions are mostly believable and line delivery is effective.  Costuming is culturally appropriate.  In short, this is a great acting performance that should be common place in Christian film.

Conclusion

The trailer for Gallows Road is ten times better than the film.  It also paints a deceiving picture of what the plot is actually about.  Nonetheless, it had the potential to become a major small town epic by tackling local racism, prejudice, and addiction at the gritty level.  But alas, it became another film that fell short of its full potential.  It seems like this idea should have been put on hold if the resources were not available to make it as big as it should have been.  The subplots need expanding and synthesizing and the overall feel of the movie needs to be more epic.  If there’s such a thing as Christian movie remakes, please remake this one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points