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Ordinary Angels (Christian Movie Review)

About the Film 

In an age when news coverage and social media posts seem to delight in showcasing the worst of humanity, it’s comforting to be reminded that there is also goodness and beauty in the world. Based on an incredible true story, Ordinary Angels is an inspiring faith-based film about finding strength in God and other people in a world filled with pain and suffering. Elevated by excellent acting performances and uplifting source material, Ordinary Angels is a timely and effective antidote to the cynicism in today’s culture.   

Faith-based films are often like cream cheese Danishes, offering a sugary package for a story brimming with “cheese” in the form of hyper-sentimentality, forced evangelistic messages, and hokey dialogue. Thankfully, Ordinary Angels, perhaps more so than any other recent faith-based film, contains little to make audiences cringe. The movie never presents itself as a watered-down alternative to “secular” Hollywood. From top to bottom, it’s an engaging, well-crafted film—faith-based or otherwise.  

That said, the glazed coating is lathered on thick at times. Jon Gunn, the writer and producer of 2023’s Jesus Revolution, is the director. In my review of Jesus Revolution, I noted that it was “largely a one-note story, but it plays that note well.” Ordinary Angels is a superior film, but it suffers from some similar tendencies. Emotional tear-jerker scenes accompanied by swelling music are plentiful, sometimes veering too far into Hallmark channel-esque territory for my personal tastes. The approach guides viewers through the desired emotional journey rather than trusting them to find their own way. Some additional comedic or action beats would have added some diversity to the tone and allowed the emotional moments to pop.   

While the film may overdo the emotional beats, it shows commendable restraint in other areas. For example, it avoids the trap many faith-based films fall into of explaining everything through dialogue. In one scene, as Ed (Alan Ritchson) drives through the wreckage of a tornado, a radio personality pontificates on how the storm destroyed certain homes while sparing others, leaving some families in ruin while others quickly resumed their life. The obvious parallel to what Ed is experiencing after tragically losing his wife is not subtle, but it is effective. There are other similar moments, such as when Ed’s young daughter asks what color her mother’s eyes were, underscoring Ed’s fear of losing the memory of his wife. The film trusts audiences to “get it” without hammering them over the head with the message.  

While director Jon Gunn deserves some credit, the film owes its effectiveness primarily to its talented cast. Alan Ritchson, the breakout star of Amazon Prime’s action-heavy Reacher, proves that he has more to offer than an imposing physical presence. He plays a reclusive man of few words, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a dynamic performance. But he is believable as a grieving husband and struggling father. Hilary Swank gives the standout performance. Having a two-time Academy Award winner in the cast of a faith-based film is a major boon. She carries the film with a captivating on-screen presence. Substitute her with a lesser actress and the story would likely fall flat.   

Ordinary Angels, though a faith-based film, is an inspiring story involving a man of faith rather than a story about faith itself. The faith elements provide the subtext, and there are a few scattered scenes in which characters attend church services or Ed questions the seemingly absent hand of God on his life. Yet the film is not a sermon. While some Christian audiences may feel that the religious elements are pushed too far into the fringe, the faith aspect feels authentic to the character’s personal journey. There is a rawness to Ed’s faith that never feels contrived or cheap.     

The movie is inspirational, but it is not always exciting. It has some pacing problems. With a 2+ hour runtime, the film is too long for the story it tells. The first two-thirds are slow and a little repetitive, featuring several scenes of Swank’s character slowly chipping away at Ed’s financial debt through fundraisers. These scenes are interspersed with some character drama and a few brief moments of tension. Swank’s performance also does a lot of heavy lifting to keep the story interesting. Still, the early part of the film seems to be stuck in a holding pattern until the dramatic ending. When the story does kick into a higher gear, it’s worth the wait. The race against time as Ed braves a snowstorm to get his daughter to the airport is a thrilling crescendo of tension that ends the film on a high note.    

Ordinary Angels may not break much new ground as an inspirational drama, but it is an effective, well-executed film that will send audiences from the theater feeling uplifted and inspired. Further, it provides a promising template for how faith-based films can amplify inspirational stories of faith without sermonizing and how a talented cast can elevate a faith-based story into something more than a Hollywood side-show that preaches to the choir. Ordinary Angels is a good film with a powerful message of faith and love that shines as a beacon of hope in a divisive, painful, and broken world. 

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Part of Something Bigger     

The movie’s title, Ordinary Angels, encapsulates its message. The film explores how regular people, despite their flaws, can participate in something far larger than themselves.   

Sharon (Hilary Swank) admits, “I’m broken. I always have been.” She is divorced, estranged from her son, and addicted to alcohol. At her first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, the group is encouraged to find a reason to attend that “is bigger than themselves.” She takes that challenge to heart. It is unclear if Sharon is a person of faith, but her actions resonate with the words of Jesus, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). By helping others in need, her own broken life finds new purpose.  

Unlike Sharon, Ed is explicitly a man of faith, although that faith has been rocked by hardships. Early in the film, he angerly questions God. When Sharon unexpectedly enters his life, Ed’s mother remarks that Sharon seems like an answer to prayer. Ed takes longer to recognize the truth in his mother’s statement, but his final words to Sharon in the film are that she is “a miracle.” His words communicate more than mere gratitude; they convey his acceptance that God was always at work, even when Ed couldn’t see it. Like God opening the prophet Elisha’s eyes to see the army of angels surrounding him (2 Kings 6:17-20), Ed realizes that he is involved in something far bigger than he realized. 

The Problem of Evil     

While Ed’s story is incredible, his struggles are strikingly relatable. His crisis of faith is rooted in the classic philosophical problem of suffering: “How can an all-powerful and all-loving God allow so much pain and suffering in the world?”   

What makes Ordinary Angels effective is that it doesn’t attempt to solve the age-old problem. There is no apologetic “free will” defense or well-meaning comfort that “everything happens for a reason.” Instead, the film offers an honest admission that the world is a painful place that doesn’t always make sense to our human understanding. Rather than attempting to solve the problem of pain, the film focuses on how to persevere while living in such a broken and difficult world.   

At the funeral for Ed’s wife, after the pastor admits that he doesn’t have any answers to why the tragedy happened, he encourages Ed to “Lean on God. And lean on us.” Later, while at the gravesite, Ed’s oldest daughter asks if the reason he stopped praying is because he’s mad at God. She continues, “That’s okay. Everyone gets mad sometimes. You can still talk to him though.”   

In a broken world full of broken people, it’s okay to grieve, struggle, and wrestle with faith. But nobody should struggle alone. People may not understand why God allows evil in the world, but the remedy for pain is to find strength in God and in the people around us

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