Image courtesy of River Valley Church Minnesota
Happy Easter everyone!
I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday. Fellow Christians all over the world are celebrating the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… I’m forever grateful for His atoning sacrifice. So in the spirit of personal redemption, I invited two of my best blog pals Terrence and Keith to participate in coming up with 10 redeeming films we’d highly recommend.
an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, or the state of being redeemed.
So, what’s a “redeeming” film? The definition varies, but borrowing from this Christianity Today article , we mean movies that include stories of redemption—sometimes blatantly, sometimes less so. Several of them literally have a character that represents a redeemer; all of them have characters who experience redemption to some degree—some quite clearly, some more subtly.
So without further ado, I present to you our list…
[SPOILER ALERT: It should be obvious that in a list like this we'd be talking about some plot points about the film, so if you haven't seen it, consider this a warning]
One of the most devastating and piercing movies about the Jewish Holocaust is Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”. The epic Academy Award Best Picture winner went to great lengths to offer the most transparent and realistic depiction of one of our world’s darkest moments. But as powerful and important as its historical focus is, there’s a lot more to “Schindler’s List” that just that. Within its brilliantly crafted 186 minutes lies one of the greatest stories of personal redemption you’ll find in cinema.
The lead character in the film is Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German business man and Nazi Party member using World War 2 as a means of financial gain. Schindler arrives in Krakow, Poland smelling profit. He buys a factory, hires local Jews for their cheap labor, and begins making supplies for the Nazi war effort. Schindler hobnobs with high-ranking Nazi officials and enjoys a comfortable lifestyle. But when a brutal Nazi Lieutenant arrives, Schindler’s eyes begin to open. A concentration camp is built and the Jewish ghetto roundup begins. Schindler sees first hand the murderous brutality of those he associates with and his heart is broken as he watches many who he’s grown found of victimized or slaughtered.
Schindler makes it his mission to free as many Jews as he can from their certain death. He secretly uses his war profits and Nazi connections to save the lives of over 1,000 Jews. There’s no doubting his inner transformation. We see his life change before our eyes and even though his character would never say he has found redemption, I think it’s a beautiful picture of it. He does everything in his power to atone for his sins and not just with words but in deeds. And his sorrow for not being able to do more only verifies his genuineness.
If I had to list one movie that I would call my favorite of all time it would be the beloved 1942 classic “Casablanca”. It was one of the movies that introduced me to the magic of classic cinema as well as the starting point for the love I have of my favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart. The film is as close to perfection as you’ll find with Bogie oozing coolness and the gorgeous Ingrid Bergman lighting up ever scene she’s in. There’s an amazing love story at the heart of “Casablanca” but there is also a wonderful depiction of a man’s self-sacrificial redemption.
Bogart plays Rick, the owner of a popular nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco. He’s not beyond participating in a few shady dealing and he maintains a middle-of-the-road war position for the purpose of profit. We do get hints of a soft side to Rick but mostly he doesn’t stick his nose out for anybody but himself. Enter Rick’s old flame Ilsa (Bergman) who permanently damaged him when she left him at a train station in Paris a few years earlier. He’s mean and unforgiving to her until he finds out she and her husband are tied into the Allied war effort and are being hunted by the Nazis. Rick and Ilsa reconcile and their genuine love for each other softens his hardened heart.
Rick turns away from the fence straddling and does the right thing. His redemption is shown through his personal sacrifice and it was all brought on by his willingness to love and forgive. Ilsa’s reappearance may have hurt him at first but the transformation her love brought is undeniable. Rick’s redemption may not be as profound as others in movie history but I think it’s a beautiful example of how true love can change even the hardest of hearts. What a great example of redemption and a perfectly fitting one as we talk about Easter.
3:10 To Yuma
Unlike the previous two characters and their stories of redemption, Ben Wade from the fantastic western “3:10 to Yuma” is undeniably a villain through most of the movie. Originally made in 1957, I prefer the 2007 remake starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Bale plays a father named Dan who is the only man willing to see that the captured murderer and thief Ben Wade gets on the 3:10 train to the Yuma prison. There’s a moving story about a father trying to prove his worth to his son. There’s also plenty of cool, well done western action sequences. But there’s also the story of Wade and his most unexpected shot at redemption.
Now let me go ahead and throw out a SPOILER WARNING here.As Dan is set to make the final push to the train station, Wade’s gang arrives to make sure he doesn’t get on board. All of the deputies and marshals skip out leaving this struggling father alone. But what folks don’t realize is that Wade has grown to respect Dan. Even more, Dan’s son and his constant belief that there is good in Wade ends up touching this wanted criminal. When its time to head to the station Wade’s gang comes with guns blazing. Dan is no match for them but it’s Wade who carries him all the way. Thinking they had made it, Dan is shot just as Wade is getting on the train. Wade, fully understanding the better man that Dan is, redeems himself by killing his entire gang and then boarding the train on his own just so Dan’s son can believe in his father once again.
Now I suppose you could say Wade’s redemption wasn’t as pure or pronounced as Oskar Schindler’s or Rick Blaine’s. We are left to believe that he has no intentions of staying in Yuma prison very long. But you can’t deny his actions. Not only does his unselfish actions save a young boy’s life and rid the territory of some of its most brutal killers, but he also restores the love and admiration a boy has for his father. And he sacrifices his own freedom to do it. That’s where his redemption becomes clear. Sacrifice, true and genuine, often goes hand-in-hand with true redemption. We certainly get that from Ben Wade.
There are several films that deal with redemption as a theme, while the main story itself does not revolve around it. Everyone loves a story of redemption…that happy ending or fulfilling moment or triumphant success that appeals to the human heart and soul. Redemption movies tell great stories and are often more enjoyable due to the different levels of human emotion it reaches and touches. In my list of possibles were so many favorites (such as The Passion of the Christ, Ben Hur, American History X, Star Wars, A Christmas Carol, Shawshank Redemption, The Ten Commandments, etc), but I decided to go with a few different ones this time around:
Up until a few months ago, I had never seen any rendition of this story (on Broadway, on TV, on VHS, etc) and this latest version of Victor Hugo’s classic story brought this tale, unknown to me, to my attention in such beautiful fashion. No one can deny that redemption is a thread throughout as Jean Valjean seeks and finds solace for himself through giving purpose to his life by caring for the young Cosette. But, not only does Valjean seek and find redemption, the same could be said for multiple characters in the story. So touching, so moving, I am now a big fan of this story and almost regret having never watched/read it before (but there’s something to allowing this beautiful version be my introduction to it.
The communication of the characters and their plight through song translates so well with multiple strong performances full of power and emotion. Everyone hoping to find some true meaning, yet few really finding it. Jean Valjean himself saw the biggest turnaround and redemption and expresses that in his song “Suddenly” which I love to listen to. (Fantine as well, in the end). Hooper does a fantastic job portraying the toil of the “sins” of each character and their journey to recompense for transgressions made. Every character fights for redemption of sorts and Les Miserables is now one of my favorites in this category.
One worthy of being on this list, Les Miserables shows the rewards of hoping for and seeking redemption. People who rose above that which was miserable and found redemption for their souls.
Road to Perdition
Perhaps not a film that would come to mind when thinking of redemption, but it strikes a chord with me in this light because of Tom Hanks’ character, Michael Sullivan. Sullivan, a “muscle” member of the mob, ends up on the wrong side of their favor and now faces the trouble that he has inflicted for so many years. Loss, redemption, family, protection and more flood his mind and influence his actions as he now fights against the “family” he’s protected and fought for for years.
Sullivan finds redemption (and purpose as the collector of payment for sins) through his last surviving son who goes on the run with him. In one of the best mobster movies, his character gives a look at one man in the mob and his inner struggle with conscience vs. duty. When the tables are turned, so are his priorities and he learns what his life should have revolved around and makes concentrated effort to make up for lost time and the mob circles in on him and his son on the run. A gripping movie that keeps you interested all the way to the surprising ending. Road to Perdition is a must-see redemption flick.
Not expecting this movie on the list? I know, but Despicable Me is so great and it does share a message of redemption and that even the most evil conniving bad guy can find a happy ending and change his way. What greater message is there to tell kids? And what greater way to do so than with Gru, the minions, and three of the cutest little girls in search of a home and happiness (and a fluffy unicorn)?
Stuck in his ways of evil and surrounding by an army of minions who obey his every whim, Gru is out to prove he is the villain of villains. But even the greatest of bad guys can be conquered by love. And that’s exactly what happens when Gru finds his heart torn between his unexpected growing love for three little girls that come into his life and his love for evil plans and the fulfillment of them. It gets complicated further when another villain threatens his title and makes Gru choose. Redemption is shown after a choice made for selfish reasons turns to a choice made for others and the reward is seen. From best villain to best dad, Despicable Me is such a fun film with other themes as well, but one of the main ones being that of attainable redemption.
Before I get to my picks for this year, I’d still want to include the three I’ve already recommended a couple of years ago. All three indie films are not widely seen as they perhaps didn’t even play in a theater near you, but now they’re available to rent. I’d see all of these again in a heartbeat as they’re beautifully-made and never fails to inspire me. Click on the posters below to read the post:
For this year, once again I choose films that are not box office hit (save for one). The first three are under-appreciated and overlooked films that should be seen by more people. Some are more obvious than others, but they all have strong redemptive quality despite the personal transgressions and vice the character(s) go through.
Everything Must Go
Now, people might not associate a Will Ferrell movie with personal redemption and neither did I. I thought the trailer was hilarious but there seemed to something more beneath the surface and it was. Nick Halsey’s a broken man, not only has he lost his job, he also lost his wife who left him and threw all his possessions all over their front lawn. He decided to hold a yard sale and ended up striking a friendship with two of his neighbors, a young boy (Christopher C.J. Wallace) and a pregnant woman (Rebecca Hall) expecting the arrival of her husband. His unlikely friendship with the two of them somehow helped him in a path to reclaim his life back.
Ferrell is much more watchable to me in a serious role (like this one and in Stranger than Fiction) and I instantly empathize with Nick, a man who’s hit rock bottom and seemed to be without hope, wasting his life away drinking beer and lounging on the sofa. The journey to personal redemption isn’t always marked with dramatic or sensational moments, but the simple things such as a kindness from a stranger and going out of one’s comfort zone can transform one’s life. The film depicts how our excess baggage, more in terms of emotional than physical, that often hold ourselves back. It’s a slow but film that display a surprisingly quiet, restrained performance from Ferrell, which also boast wonderful performances from Michael Peña as Halsey’s cop friend, and a small–but–memorable turn by Laura Dern.
Machine Gun Preacher
It’s criminal how poorly-marketed this film was, making it look like a *Rambo in Africa* type of genre film (as Claratsi pointed out in his excellent review). It’s a shame as this film deserves so much better. Based on a true story about an ex-con and drug addict Sam Childers whose new-found faith in God drove him to build an orphanage in Sudan following a mission trip to the region. Based on his autobiography Another Man’s War, its tagline pretty much says it all: “Save the children, no matter the cost.” Seems extreme perhaps, but this film showed the brutality of what happened to these African children as they’re being recruited as child soldiers, forced to slay their own family member in order to *save* their own. Extreme situation calls for extreme measures. Childers’ battle his own personal demons, which did not immediately vanish at the moment of conversion as some people seem to assume.
Gerard Butler depicted Childers with such conviction. It’s a brutally honest portrayal, Childers’ not simply a one-dimensional *white man hero* but a fascinating man full of rough edges but with a stern, compassionate heart. It’s heart-wrenching to see such a tumultuous journey, warts and all, because we’ve all been there at some point of our lives.
The script could have been more compelling and nuanced, yet the redemptive quality of it is not lost on me. Childers may have rescued the children and did his best to protect them, but it’s these very children who in turn *save* him and give him a new purpose in life. The one quote that struck me from the film comes from one the orphans living in Childers’ compound: “If we allow ourselves to be full of hate, they have won. We cannot let them take our hearts.” It’s a poignant moment and certainly a thought-provoking one, as even as we do try to do the right thing, we’re often so consumed by anger and sometimes hatred, which could lead us back to where we were before we found redemption. (read my full review)
Personal redemption doesn’t always take one to hit rock bottom, sometimes a docile existence is just as in need of a reformation. Walter Vale’s life is not out of control, in fact, the economics professor lives a comfortable, albeit boring, life that suddenly takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of two immigrants in his home. Richard Jenkins gave a wonderful, sensitive portrayal of Walter, and he’s got a nice chemistry with Haaz Sleiman as Tarek.
In my review of The Intouchables, some people mentioned that the story reminded them of The Visitor and certainly the unlikely friendship has some similarities. Tarek, a Syrian immigrant and his girlfriend Zainab, a jewelry designer from Senegal ended up living in Walter’s apartment, having rented it from a swindler who claimed it was his place. Walter initially freaked out about the whole ordeal, as one could imagine, but a friendship slowly developed between them as they learn to trust each other. I love the scene where Tarek taught Walter how to play the drum and they played with Tarek’s drum circle in Central Park. There’s also a sweet relationship that developed between Walter and Tarek’s mother Mouna who lost her journalist husband in a Syrian prison. Their friendship give Walter a renewed joy and a sense of purpose, as he’s become determined to help Tarek and Mouna to stay in the country legally. The depth and humanity of the story is heart-wrenching as well as uplifting, even if the outcome didn’t turn out the way we wish it would be.
Now, this film is not exactly overlooked. It’s grossed over $200 million worldwide so it was quite a box office hit, but I’d like to include it nonetheless as it has a strong redemptive theme.
Clint Eastwood has played more than his share of grump, taciturn protagonists in his lifetime, but few are as curmudgeon-like as Walt Kowalski. Mourning the death of his wife, Walt’s become embittered of and loathe the world around him. The Korean War veteran’s sole prized possession is a 1972 Gran Torino which he keeps in mint condition. He loves his classic car as much as he resents his Hmong neighbors. One day, their paths cross as a Hmong teenager Thao attempt to steal his Gran Torino out of peer pressure and their lives are changed in ways neither one could’ve anticipated.
At 78, his quip ‘Get off my lawn‘ is still as intimidating as his ‘Make my day.’ Eastwood snarls, glowers, and growls like nobody’s business and his friendship with Thao doesn’t immediately soften him, which creates some amusing scenes. But there’s no denying that the personal redemption is real as Walt slowly opens up his life to his new friend and his family. He’s come to care deeply for them as well, to the point of laying down his life to save them from the threats of the violent gangs that frequent the neighborhood. It goes to show that even the most hardened hearts is not beyond the point of redemption, and the grace from those he discriminated against end up being his own personal savior as much as he become one to them.
THANK YOU Keith and Terrence for your awesome contribution!
Hope you enjoy our recommendations, we welcome your thoughts on our picks. Now, what other films with redemptive theme would you add to the list?