Faith-based movies are tricky.  The people who do practice religion regularly also routinely disagree about almost every aspect:  form of worship, preaching style, understanding of communion and baptism, view of scripture---to name only a few points of divergence.  The non-religious tend to be skeptical of certain theological doctrines, and disappointed in the apparent hypocrisy and inconsistency of religious practitioners.  It's difficult to find common ground with so much divergence of perception.  Maybe the best way is to just tell the story the way it happened, and let people draw their own conclusions.  Which is how the movie “Breakthrough” presents itself.

            Based on a true story, a 14-year-old St. Louis boy named John Smith (Marcel Ruiz) falls through the ice and is underwater for a horrifying twenty minutes before the paramedics arrive.  They pull him up from the bottom, but he has no pulse, and no breathing.  He remains unresponsive even in the ambulance and in the emergency room.  The medical team finally gives up trying to revive him, and calls in the Mom, Joyce (Chrissy Metz), to say her goodbyes.  Instead, she refuses to believe that her son is gone.  She prays fervently, even hysterically, that the Lord will bring him back to life.  And then, suddenly, there is a pulse. 

            The medical team rushes back in the room, but the optimism is tempered, because, they say, he's not likely to last the night.  Then when he does, they say if he ever wakes up, which is unlikely, he'll be severely brain-damaged.

            The Dad, Brian (Josh Lucas), takes their prognosis to heart, and can't bear to even be in the room with his comatose son.  He waits down the hall in the waiting room, keeping a silent, morose vigil.  But Joyce is not giving up.  And, she won't tolerate any negativity from the medical staff around her son's bed.  For that matter, she won't hear any discouraging words from well-meaning friends, either.  She has faith that her son will completely recover, and she expects everyone around her to remain positive with her.

            Prior to the accident, we saw the family interact in a fairly “normal” way; a little bit of teenage attitude here, a little bit of parental exasperation there.  Joyce and her family are churchgoers, but Joyce has had her run-ins with the new Pastor.  She doesn't like the way he experiments with the music (like bringing in a guest rapper for a praise song).  And she doesn't like his haircut, either.

            Pastor Jason Noble (Topher Grace) at least embodies that rarest of cinematic characters:  a positive, but realistic, clergy role model.  He can be a smooth talker on Sunday mornings in church, but sometimes stumbles around the breakfast table with his own kids.  He can run roughshod over other people's sensibilities at times, but he also understands the importance of physical presence in a crisis.

            And then when the “miracle” happens, and John wakes up, apparently unharmed, he's overwhelmed by the well-wishers, of course, but he also is taken aback by the people who ask him why he was saved and their loved one wasn't.  To his credit, he has no answer to that question.  Nobody does.  But the experience definitely brings him closer to his family.  And to the Lord.

            During the credits, we get to see images of the “real” people behind the characters.  It's an amazing story, well-told, and though you'll know the destination before you begin, it's worth the time to take the trip, anyway.  You'll be amazed.  But it's still up to you whether you believe.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association