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.
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.
Cadon and Jess have made bad choices in their lives, but they have each other and they have Jess’ son to keep them going. However, in one fell swoop of mistakes a ‘friend’ convinced them into, they lose custody of their little boy to Jess’ parents, whom she is still not speaking to. Thus, in a moment of desperation, they turn to the same ‘friend’ who got them in trouble for help getting out of it. Together, they concoct a dangerous scheme to get their son back, but little do they know what God really has planned for them.
Production Quality (.5 point)
As a severely underfunded production, My Son unfortunately has a lot of issues here. Camera work is quite shaky, including a lot of odd camera angles, and lighting is strange throughout. There are too many loud outside sounds that crowd out the audio, as well as a loud soundtrack. Sets and locations are relatively limited, but the props are good and appropriate. Some of these production elements improve slightly in the end as the final scenes appear to have more effort behind them. Yet nonetheless, the editing throughout is an issue. Basically, this was a very ambitious idea for such a limited budget, but the effort is commendable.
Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)
My Son is a rare instance in which the plot is better than the production, as long as you can look past the production issues. The writers mean well and are trying their best to portray realistic circumstances and accessible characters. The suspense plot setup is very intriguing and well-constructed. Dialogue sometimes isn’t as good as it should be, but for the most part, it is realistic and believable. As the suspense progresses, the movie actually holds the attention if you are committed to it. In the end, the ending is well written and realistic. Since this is such an ambitious idea trapped in a bad production, it would be great to see a remake or at least another suspense plot from these writers.
Acting Quality (1 point)
At the beginning of this film, the acting is too forceful and overly practiced, as well as awkward. However, it seems like this cast means well and is really trying. The most interesting thing about the cast members is that they are actually better as suspenseful acting than at regular acting, and thus show improvement at the end, like other elements do. There is tons of potential here that needs to be brought out in another film.
Despite its obvious flaws, My Son is a surprising and interesting burst onto the movie scene. It likely will not get as much attention as other films, but it embodies a gold mine of potential this church has in making unique and ambitious Christian films in different genres. Rarely do you see this much potential in a freshman film from a random church group. It just goes to show you how trying a different genre and really working on your plot, even if you have poor funding, goes a long way. They are already one step ahead of other film makers, so we can’t wait to see what they have next.