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Unsung Hero (Christian Movie Review) 

About the Film 

Unsung Hero is the latest faith-based story to find its way onto the silver screen. I admit, I’m often lukewarm on faith-based films (I love the “faith” part but not always the lackluster “film” part), CCM music is not my personal cup of tea, and my knowledge of for King & Country (the creators and subject of Unsung Hero) is limited. I don’t say this to disparage anyone who enjoys these things, only to note that I’m not necessarily predisposed to like this movie—which makes it more impressive that I did. While never straying far from the established genre template, Unsung Hero is a feel-good story of family and faith that is bolstered by several strong acting performances.    

The movie is being released by Kingdom Story Company (Jesus Revolution, Ordinary Angels). The studio has planted its flag in a sweet spot between the “cinematic Sunday school lessons” of the Kendrick brothers and the “we’re faith-based but not pushy” approach of Angel Studios. Like Kingdom Story Company’s other recent films, Unsung Hero is an inspirational, based-on-a-true-story drama; a character-driven story about faithful Christians in a nostalgic setting (the 1990s). If you enjoyed Jesus Revolution and Ordinary Angels, you will likely appreciate this film. In fact, Unsung Hero may be the best of that trio.   

While the film captures the strengths of the other Kingdom Story Company films, it also shares some of their weaknesses. Ironically, despite being produced by a family of successful musicians, the movie is fairly one note. Almost every scene feels manufactured to tug on the viewer’s heartstrings. There’s a delicate line between “emotionally moving” and “emotionally exhausting,” and if Unsung Hero doesn’t cross the line, it spends much of its runtime riding it. Some of this emotional tugging is typical of the inspirational drama genre, but the filmmakers seem to be reluctant to allow important moments to unfold without swelling background music.      

Unsung Hero is at its best when it focuses on the family dynamic and allows characters some breathing room. For example, there is a great scene in which the mother and children stop at a playground to play and simply enjoy each other’s company (although this scene ultimately morphs into perhaps the most effectively heart-tugging moments of the film).   

Thankfully, despite a cringe-worthy animated short that played before the movie featuring a cartoon character giving a contrived gospel presentation to a dog, the movie mostly avoids heavy-handed sermonizing. The themes are rarely subtle, but the film doesn’t get bogged down by them either.    

The standard criticism about amateur acting performances in faith-based films is becoming more outdated each year. This film succeeds on the back of several surprisingly great performances. Nothing about his performance in Journey to Bethlehem suggested that for King & Country member Joel Smallbone was destined to become a double-threat entertainer, but he does well in a far more personal role portraying his father. He also benefits from being surrounded by talent. Daisy Betts as the family’s matriarch is the engine that drives the film, the “unsung hero” of the movie’s title and the clear star of the film. Kirrilee Berger is also good as a young Rebeca Saint James.   

Perhaps the only issue with the characters is their usage rather than their performances. The film has a somewhat undefined point of view. It begins as a story about the father, shifts to the mother, and finishes with the daughter. By the end, Unsung Hero is largely about Rebecca’s musical journey, even though she hardly utters a line of dialogue for the first half of the film. The approach mostly works, since each of the character arcs is interesting and well-acted. But these shifts in focus prevent the story from diving deeply into any one character.    

Unsung Hero may not “wow” audiences with any one individual component or story development, but it is a solid film from start to finish and it should resonate with audiences. Even though viewers may not be able to relate to the Smallbone family’s specific circumstances, we all experience family, hardships, and—most importantly—the need for God’s protection and provision.    

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Miracles     

There is something (at least on the surface) almost underwhelming about the miracles the Smallbone family experiences. For example, one of the children prays for “things to be more cheap” and then another one stumbles on some coupons in a magazine that saves the family a few dollars at the grocery store. Or a wealthier friend sees the family’s Christmas list (filled with things the Smallbones cannot afford) and generously purchases the items for them. Occurrences like those aren’t dramatic or incomprehensible, but does that mean they aren’t miracles or God’s answer to prayers? In one conversation, Helen remarks that the family has seen many miracles, even if they haven’t come in the form of “dramatic lightning strikes from the sky.” Unsung Hero offers an important example of being mindful and appreciative of God’s activity—both big and small—in our life.   

Pride    

David Smallbone is not a bad man, but he is a prideful one. His fall from grace, from being a successful tour manager in Australia to cleaning toilets in America, left him bitter and broken. One of the movie’s best scenes involves a heated argument between David and Helen, during which she calls out her husband for allowing his own hurt pride to blind him to what really matters. Ultimately, it is only by surrendering his pride and trusting in his faith and his family that he is restored.    

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