Two men try to keep themselves and their families alive during the Rwandan Genocide and a rich Nashville businessman reaches out to his rape-victim daughter in “Beautifully Broken,” a not-inspirational-enough real-life drama directed by music video veteran Eric Welch.’
You can guess what’s wrong with it from that plot summary. Flatly-scripted, unevenly acted and pointlessly patriarchal, it clumsily ties three three grossly-imbalanced stories together and basically loses its way every time it leaves Africa.
The tragedy of a teenage girl’s rape is somewhat muted, and suffers in scale when you’re comparing it to mass murder by machete in 1994 Rwanda.
Benjamin A. Onyango of “God’s Not Dead” is William Mwizerwa, a righteous, pious husband and father whose middle-class life (he’s a manager with a coffee exporter) is disrupted by the explosion of tribal violence that turned Hutu against Tutsi.
The radio reveals the call to arms, and thugs take to the streets in gangs piled into pickup trucks — “The cleansing has begun!”
William has no sooner said “We’ll be safe here” when he, his wife (regal Eva Ndachi) and little girl have to flee their home and make for the coffee company compound. They face execution in the streets until a timely, heaven-sent explosion spares their lives.
Tezan and Mugenzi (Sibulele Gcilitshana, Bonko Khoza) are a farm family with a toddler daughter when the fighting begins. Mugenzi is “not a soldier, not a fighter” his wife insists. But when neighbors are butchered at their front door, he joins the gang of murderers just to go along, and draw them away from his family.
Meanwhile, in Nashville, workaholic businessman Randy (TV veteran Scott William Winters) is keeping daughter Andrea (played by Emily Hahn as a teen) in riding lessons and on the cheerleading squad in their little corner of affluence.
The men’s lives cross in mysterious ways involving violence, refugee sponsorship, daughters-as-pen pals and faith. One saves another one’s life.
“The life you spared will not be wasted.”
And another is drawn into this world by a kid who is learning altruism at an early age.
“Helping those in need gives you back twice the love!”
The five-handed script goes to some pains to level the playing field of pain, suggesting that great hurt is an equalizer. “We are all equally broken” a mother counsels her child, and that makes us all merit redemption.
But I have to say the flatness of the Nashville scenes sucks the energy and heart right out of “Beautifully Broken.” Bland characters acting in mostly mundane moments of melodrama, relying on emotionally-lacking performances.
Heck, Eric Roberts was cast as the Nashville dad’s father, and given absolutely nothing to play. You get a name, you need to give him something value-added to do.
The African story has tragedy as well, and guilt and forgiveness. It’s a modern parable about great crimes and the greatness of spirit it takes to get over them and move on. Frankly, the acting in the Rwandan scenes is more compelling as well. The Nashville scenes are patronizing and tepid in comparison.
You cannot fault “Beautifully Broken’s” message. It rejects Christian conservative xenophobia and embraces immigrant outreach in the form of sponsoring the less fortunate, charity that is taught and reinforced at an early age. There’s even an “action step” at the end of the sermon that this film almost wants to be.
It’s the movie-making, the acting, that let it down. One lump in the throat moment with all these trials, all this tragedy and the path to uplift the story takes is hardly enough, considering the subjects engaged here.
Faith-based cinema has had its financial successes. But the brutal truth of the genre is that it rarely attracts charismatic, accomplished talent behind the camera or in front of it, people who can transcend the genre and lift it to the next level. Until that happens, you’ll get hackwork like this, a music video director content to preach to the choir, and a choir content to buy tickets to inferior work just because they agree with its proselytizing.
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic content involving violence and disturbing images, and some drug material
Cast:Benjamin A. Onyango, Scott William Winters, Emily Hahn, Bonko Khoza, Sibulele Gcilitshana, Eva Ndachi
Credits:Directed by Eric Welch, script by Brad Allen, Chuck Howard, Martin Michael, Eric Welch. An ArtEffects release.
Running time: 1:48