A Giving Spirit
 
            Is it possible to have an animated film noir?  Well, “The Spirit” tries it.  Actually, it’s more like a new set of comic book characters, set up sort to resemble an old Western:  clearly defined lawmen and outlaws, and the hero, virtually indestructible, dedicates his life to keeping safe the town that he loves.  Gabriel Macht plays “The Spirit,” which he describes as the spirit of the metropolis where he once served as a police officer.  He rescues damsels in distress, but doesn’t seem interested enough to follow up on the romance.  Some big names going campy here:  Samuel Jackson, Scarlet Johannson, Eva Mendes:  and they all revel in the cartoonish roles.  But this hero isn’t as endearingly human as Batman or Spiderman, and not susceptible to Kryptonite like Superman, or his anger, like The Hulk.  But, unlike the Fantastic Four, he’s a loner, and revels in his brooding solitude.  He can have it.  He’s not that interesting, anyway.  But he does have a giving spirit.
            “Seven Pounds” is a different kind of urban morality tale.  Will Smith plays an IRS agent who at first seems doggedly determined to pursue poor recalcitrants, then we discover that he has another agenda:  he actually wants to help them.  But only if they’re really deserving.  It’s not quite a love story.  It’s not really an adventure.  It’s certainly not a comedy.  But it’s a unique little tale told well enough to keep you thinking about it even after it ends very differently than how it began.  Telling any more would give it away, but know that this is a quirky one that defies the usual categories.  But he does have a giving spirit.
The giving spirit is at the core of “Not Easily Broken,” that rare modern film that actually contains a positive role model of a minister.  (Of course, the book was written by T.D. Jakes, a Dallas pastor who also appears in the movie.)  Dave Johnson (Morris Chestnut) is a once-promising baseball player whose career was ruined by a leg injury.  Now, he lives with his wife, Clarice (Taraji P. Henson), a high-achieving realtor, and owns a small home-repair business (though we never see him actually working, just driving the beat-up truck).  Dave spends a lot of his time with a couple of old buddies:  they plays hoops together and coach a boy’s baseball team.  Clarice, all business, thinks that Dave should play less basketball, and spend less time with the “hoodlums in training”, and more energy developing his business.  She’s ambitious, for herself and for him.  But a car accident makes all the dormant tensions worse.  Her domineering, belittling mother (Jenifer Lewis) moves in, Clarice is depressed about her long rehabilitation, so Dave tries to make things better by hiring a physical therapist, Julie (Maeve Quinlan).  The therapy works, but soon Dave finds himself with feelings for the always-cheerful Julie, and Clarice senses the distance growing between her and her husband, even as her angry mother forces her way into emot ional control of the household.  What’s interesting, from a churchgoer’s point of view, is that Dave and Clarice decide to talk things over with their Pastor.  And he not only listens well, what he does say is insightful and to the point.  He even speaks to both of them separately as a follow-up.  He tells them that when he performed the wedding service for them, he tied a three-cord rope around them, symbolizing that the three strands of a strong marital relationship are the husband, the wife, and their Lord.  That, he says, is a bond “not easily broken.”
Yes, there’s a re-dedication at a worship service, but more significantly, there’s a kind of repentance on the part of Clarice, who realizes that she has to choose between living with her man-hating mother, or trying to save her marriage.  Here’s a family drama that deals with how difficult it is to keep nurturing a long-term relationship, but it’s worth it; just like it’s worth it to reach out to the neighborhood boys on an athletic team, because learning the teamwork dynamics will transcend the sport itself.  “Not Easily Broken” is heartfelt without being too sappy or corny, or even very predictable.  And the preacher’s a trusted leader, a positive influence, and a respected community resource.  How long has it been since you’ve seen that in a movie?
 
Questions for Discussion:
1)      When is a marriage worth saving, and when is it unsalvageable?
2)      Which clergy of your personal acquaintance do you consider positive role models?  Negative role models?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas