Same Kind of Different As Me

 

            This is one of those heartfelt, genuine, real-life stories that usually don't get told in Hollywood.  Though not overtly religious, there's a deep spirituality here that is impressively represented by these highly-skilled veteran actors.

            Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear) is a very successful art dealer.  He lives in a huge house, he has a place out in the country, he drives a Mercedes, and he has a lovely wife and two wonderful children.  All seems perfect in his life, until the fancy cocktail reception, where an acquaintance asks to have a word with him in private.  All she says is, I know about your friend.  And if you don't tell your wife, I will.

            At that moment, Ron Hall had a big decision to make.  And he chose the right one.  He decided to tell her himself.  Deborah (Renee Zellwegger) was hurt and angry, of course.  And she made him sleep on the couch.  But when she woke up the next morning, she decided to forgive him.  As long as he would work hard again at being a couple.  And that meant doing things with her that she wanted to do.  And that meant coming with her to the Union Gospel Mission, the homeless shelter where she volunteered.

            He asked if they had germs.  He kept trying to say he had a meeting at work.  He didn't want to put on the apron or pick up the dishrag.  But finally, he recognized this as a kind of penance, and he allowed himself to start caring for some of these people he didn't know, and formerly wouldn't have had anything to do with.  There was one in particular, Suicide was his street name, who went around angry all the time, busting things with the baseball bat he carried.  But Deborah had had a dream about him, and she was convinced that he was somebody they needed to make a connection with.  And she insisted that her husband do just that.

            It changed his life.  And his perspective.  It turns out the homeless man was named Denver Moore (Djimon Hounsou).  He was abandoned by his parents, and raised by a grandmother until she died, then delivered by an Uncle to a sharecropper's existence in Louisiana, picking cotton instead of going to school, or even being offered a chance to enlist in the military and work his way up.  He wasn't going anywhere, and he knew it.  So he ran away, and as he later told Ron and Deborah, he quickly got into some trouble.  And he did some hard time.

            But Ron and Deborah still weren't ready to give up on Denver, and that began to change him.  He wasn't so surly all the time.  He began interacting with others.  He got invited to do things with the Hall family, including Ron's Dad, Earl (John Voight), an irascible old drunk who's mean to everybody, even failing to conceal his own bigotry.

            So it isn't all treacly sweetness.  There's plenty of dynamic tension, and plenty of times where people weren't at their best.  But the strange-but-true story of the unlikely friendship between an art dealer and homeless man wound up being immortalized in print (through the best-selling book by the same title), as well as expanded through several years of Ron and Denver's partnership in cross-country fundraising for homeless shelters.  It's the kind of true story that makes you want to treat people as if they were already their better selves.  And even go out and work on that better version of yourself.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you ever volunteered at a homeless shelter?  What surprised you there, and what didn't surprise you?

2)                  What bigotry have you witnessed?

3)                  What's the hardest thing you ever forgave?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association