All Saints tells the true story of an Episcopalian church in rural Tennessee, and the lone preacher (John Corbett) who saved it from bankruptcy by turning it into a functioning farm -- one that was able to feed the local population of Burmese refugees, as well as pay its own mortgage. The film is both an underdog story and a religious tale, making it fertile ground for an inspirational message. But while the durability of its story and values can’t be denied, its message is presented too easily, with little conflict or religious examination along the way.
Corbett, a former cast member of Sex and the City, is an odd choice to play the church’s pastor, Rev. Michael Spurlock; the photo montage preceding the end credits shows little resemblance between Corbett and the real-life figure, and the film itself gives few indications that Spurlock would have been a reliable source of religious inspiration for his flock. He’s the spitting image of a big-city huckster, but despite this appearance, almost all of the church’s small congregation are quickly won over by him. The sole exception is a man named Forrest (Barry Corbin), who serves as a reliably cranky foil for the enthusiastic Spurlock throughout much of the movie.
This contrived manner of storytelling continues as Spurlock and his congregation embark on an attempt to create a farm on their church’s land. Spurlock continually assumes that everyone outside of the church is against his mission, although there are actually very few conflicts between any of the characters. In fact, members of the community are quick to pitch in whenever their help is needed, and what initially seems like an insurmountable task soon becomes achievable. Because of this, obstacles in the characters’ paths often appear to be little more than temporary frustrations. And even when a disaster does occur, the viewer is left with little doubt that the situation will eventually be remedied during a predictable moment.
The congregation’s quick acceptance of its new Southeast Asian neighbors also rings hollow, as the few people who remained loyal to the church throughout its decline into bankruptcy are shown to be otherwise resistant to change and unaccepting of newcomers. While the clash of disparate cultures could have provided for a timely discussion of tolerance and cultural exchange, the movie’s message of acceptance is essentially taken for granted before the fact. It’s a lost opportunity to explore the ways in which people from different walks of life interact with one another.
For those of the Christian faith looking for a film to confirm their beliefs, All Saints will certainly fit the bill. But those who are unconvinced or neutral on the subject aren’t likely to be converted by its flimsy storytelling, which turns a remarkable true story into a predictable inspirational movie. This type of film does nothing to provoke discussions regarding social issues, or to examine its characters’ spiritual journeys with any real depth. But as a comforting and wholesome piece of Christian entertainment, All Saints fulfills expectations while hinting at a number of important and valuable lessons hidden just beneath the surface.
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