SP Review: For its good intentions, 'Breakthrough' sinks through the cracks

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King gives "Breakthrough" 4/10 stars

I want to start off this review with the sentiment that Christian filmmaking is not something I am, nor do I have interest in being, an expert in. 

I'm not talking about Christmas films or films with Christian imagery. Instead I'm referring to films produced specifically for a Christian audience, with God, Jesus and the Bible as distinct story points and character motivations.

That's not meant to be a positive or negative statement, but I want to respect that these films mean a lot to certain audiences who thoroughly enjoy these movies, no matter what the critical consensus is. 

With that said, we come to the new film, "Breakthrough," which is set to be a milestone as the first film to be distributed by The Walt Disney Studios after its acquisition of 20th Century Fox.

Though I wound up being impressed with a few elements of the film, "Breakthrough" is more obsessed with appealing to its core audience, rather than build on those few moments to be legitimately emotional.

The film is based on a real life drowning in 2015 that inspired a book, "The Impossible," written by Joyce Smith. In the film, Joyce (played by Chrissy Metz) is a devout Christian woman living in St. Louis with her husband Brian (played by Josh Lucas) and their adopted son, John (played by Marcel Ruiz).

Joyce tries to keep the faith within her family by regularly attending church, led by a youthful pastor, Jason Noble (played by Topher Grace). One day while playing with his friends, John ventures onto a frozen pond and falls through the ice. 

Rescue operations teams come to the aid of the boy, including firefighter Tommy Shine (played by Mike Colter). John is brought to the hospital after 45 minutes without oxygen and is pronounced dead. As Joyce mourns, she prays to God to revive her son, and within minutes, John miraculously has a small heartbeat. 

John gets airlifted to a medical center where he is treated by Doctor Garrett (played by Dennis Haysbert), a specialist in drownings who believes John has little time left to live. Nevertheless, Joyce fights to keeps her faith, alongside Brian, Noble and the community, who rally behind the young boy.

"Breakthrough" doesn't have a ton going for it, but I want to point out a few things it does have. For one thing, the story itself. 

If you look into the real John Smith's story, it is quite fascinating, and the film really drills that point home. 

The community around John and his family come together, and as the odds seem to be ever-stacked against the family, the film makes the effort to keep the audience just as hopeful as the characters.

Speaking of which, while the characters do get bogged down by the script, the actors are at least giving something of an effort. 

Metz's portrayal of Joyce's undoubtable faith can have some depth to it, Colter's performance can represent some half-decent commentary on the reluctance of belief and even Grace has some tender moments as a religious center. 

The actors do what they can to give actual inspiration to the story, and it can work. There's that key word, it "can" work, but it chooses not to. 

"Breakthrough" suffers from a huge overarching issue of emotional focus. It wants to feel inspiring and hopeful, but it places the bulk of those emotions, not on the ideas of its characters, but rather on the idea of divine inspiration. 

The issue in getting realistically attached to this movie is that the film only seems to be concerned with our characters' emotions when they are anchored in their religious connotations. 

"Breakthrough" assumes we'll only understand the emotional weight if they bring up God or faith every few minutes because there's no way our audience will understand human emotion unless religion is involved.

The movie also doesn't do wonders getting us invested. The first 20 minutes heavily pander to a modern sensibility, with plenty of music and television references, a musical number that goes absolutely nowhere and a discussion about Stephen Curry, who is a producer on this film, that comes across pretty cringeworthy.

I tried not to be too hard on "Breakthrough," but it feels more desperate, preachy and overly focused on the reasons behind tragic emotion rather than the emotions themselves.

I want to reemphasize that there is an audience, maybe even those reading this review, who might feel inspired by this film. Don't let me dissuade you in your faith or your moviegoing enjoyment. 

With that being said, for a story this interesting, it's sad to see the result so bland and safe, but I can't say that surprises me.

Overall, I give "Breakthrough" 4/10 stars. 


Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

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