Christian films are coming to cinemas at a rate that is honestly difficult to keep track of. While the quality varies between them, I’ve been generally impressed by the output of Affirm Films. The company distributes the Kendrick Brothers films, and while those are sometimes knocked for the acting involved, I’ve always came out of them entertained and inspired. Arguably, those films helped blaze the trail for even more production companies and studios to bring more stories, and since then, the Affirm Films brand has brought even more films out beyond them. A film that I hated to miss in theaters this year, All Saints, was recently released on disc and digital; its trailers perked my interest as the pastor of a small church. After seeing it, I wish I had watched it sooner, so that I could have let more know about it to see it in theaters.
In it, we follow Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), a first-time Episcopalian minister, who is placed in charge of All Saints Episcopalian Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. The church is to be closed in two months time, and Michael’s duties are to comfort the small congregation and help them through the liquidation of the church property and assets. It’s not necessarily a desirable thing to do, but in a few months time, Spurlock will have done his part, and with a little experience, he will be the leader of a more functional pastorate. At the beginning of a Sunday Morning service, several Karen refugees of Anglican background, including Ye Win (Nelson Lee), attend services, and in time, even more follow. While this brings with it many needs for any church, this isn’t something a closing church can handle the pastor thinks. God has other plans; it’s revealed to Michael that not only can this church meet the very real needs of his growing church body, but they may even be able to keep the doors open and avoid closure. Through farming, everything could change. Difficulties inevitably arise, but knowing that it’s God’s path keeps them plowing forward.
My outline of the plot is a little more comprehensive than usual, but the best thing about all of this is that it is a true story, one you could easily research yourself. There is an All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, and if you watch this film, you will visit there through the story. Most on-location film shoots are never this true-to-life, but this film is amazingly shot in the exact same place all of it actually happened. The Karen refugees are most all played by actual church members who were a part of this incredible work. All of this lends the film an incredible sense of authenticity and even when the film has its moments of not fitting “Hollywood standards”, it’s the realness that shines through. John Corbett doesn’t get too many times to lead a film, and it’s a shame because he is naturally charismatic and able as an actor. He doesn’t disappoint here. Cara Buono plays his wife, Aimee, who struggles in finding her place in the congregation but develops into doing great ministry work with the Karen children. Outside of Mad Men and Stranger Things, I don’t remember seeing her in much, but I am glad to see more of her, as she is a very capable actress. Both of them carry the film very well. Nelson Lee does an incredible job as Ye Win, the lynchpin of God working in a big way across cultures. Seeing his dedication to getting the real life story right was great to see in the special features. Barry Corbin brings his crotchety best to the part of Forrest, a bitter widower who proves to be a valuable part of the church. Fans of the 1990’s series, Northern Exposure, will love to know that two of the cast members are back working together with Corbett and Corbin. The entire cast handles their parts in this film, I felt, without feeling overly sappy, which is often the critique of these types of films. As is typical of “Based on a True Story” movies, seeing the credits and special features added more to the film and showed that big things can happen with a little faith in God. While the music is scarce, it never gets in the way or stands out in a bad way, which is a plus.
Content-wise, there is really nothing objectionable here. While kids may not find the story particularly exciting, there isn’t anything here to worry about being inappropriate. It’s a simple tale that has resonance in that it is true. It’s amazing what God can do when His people step out and go where He sends them. This tale is a testament to that fact. I would highly recommend watching this film with your church group or at home with your family. It’s a story worth knowing, and churches, big and small, can learn its lessons about faith, community, relationships, and serving others.