I Am…Gabriel, a film directed by Mike Norris (yes, Chuck’s son), was, well, quite the experience. I’ll admit this right up front: I’m not much of a fan of so-called “Christian films.” Usually they either end up unnaturally preachy (which is primarily a problem due to the impersonal nature of it), or they simply end up saying terrible things. Theology is usually one of the first things to go, if the film wants to be ‘accessible.’ If it doesn’t, it rarely comes out as a feature motion picture, and ends up as some sort of a documentary or sermon series in DVD format.
And so I sat down to watch I Am…Gabriel. My expectations were relatively low, but I care a lot about Christian media. I want Christians to excel at everything they do, from blogging (hint, hint) and writing to filming and generally creating culture. I wanted to give this film a fair chance, but the opening scene didn’t really help me along my way. The hand-held camera feels like a home movie, but the frames-per-second were far too high. It appeared to be shot at somewhere close to 60 frames per second, which gives the whole movie a bit of a soap opera with a less saturated color palette, for the most part. The acting was sub-par and felt campy, though I’ve certainly seen worse.
Here we get what I assumed to be the emotional thrust of the film. The opening scene consists of a birth that ends with losing the child, and a woman asks the doctor the age-old question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Our doctor (easily the best actor in the film) responds with caution: “Who am I to question God?”
The opening credits begin, and run well enough. There’s a standard sort of CCM sound playing (a song by Jenna Vitalone), and the credits end up running longer than they should. They do provide solid shots of the atmosphere of the town, and we get the message that the little town of Promise, Texas is in emotional shambles.
I won’t spoil the rest of the film, but the central character, Gabe, is a roughly-ten-year-old child who mysteriously carries only a prayer mat. If you can’t guess–just look at that cover, after all–he ends up revealing himself as the angel Gabriel. That doesn’t count as a spoiler, since there isn’t anything subtle about it. His name, the cover of the film, and he consistently indicates that he is speaking with God directly (and likely hearing from God).
The film’s themes end up convoluted and confusing. The treatment of angels doesn’t really ring true of Biblical interactions–which are nearly all characterized by fear–but that’s not even the biggest issue. Jesus only gets one mention, that I caught, though God is certainly mentioned a number of times. I’m not sure I follow the motivation, here; are we not talking about Jesus because we want to stop from scaring people off, or are we focusing on “God” as a stepping stone to a more robust discussion of Christianity? I’m not sure I know the answer, but if the market for this film is non-Christians, it simply isn’t going to go anywhere. If the film is aimed at Christians, it may function well in an older crowd or in the portion of evangelicalism that will eat up anything that mentions God, but it doesn’t do much to advance the kingdom of God. If you could edit the film down to 2-3 minute snippets, I could understand using it as some sort of sermon tool, but even then I’d be careful which sections you picked.
From a technical standpoint, I’ve already commented on the hand-cam and the frames-per-second, but beyond these the film’s editing is odd. Cuts come too often, and end up either distracting from the pacing, or keeping us from seeing reactions of key characters. The editing is particularly distracting and confusing during the first major event with Gabe. In it, a miracle is performed, but the quick cuts and visual effects made everyone in the room–my roommates joined me for the film–literally ask ‘What?’ out loud.
Not everything here was bad, however. I rather liked Doc’s character, not only in acting ability, but as a steady ‘good’ character. He was genuine, and seemed like the sort of person I’d actually meet in a little town. The close out, while a bit cheesy in its revelation and execution, still satisfies what I thought would happen. Gabe’s performance wasn’t bad, either, though he ends up a bit cold. I suspect this was intentional, since he is other-worldly.
But here’s my struggle: I can’t really recommend the film. If you’d like to watch a film with some Christian themes, some sub-par acting, and some strange (if common) views on angels, then I suppose this is where you could turn. For everyone else, though, just know what you’re getting into.
I want to be clear, here. I’m critical because I truly care about the medium. I believe Christians can create beautiful art, compelling narratives, and fantastic movies, even if we haven’t really accomplished that last one in recent memory. I think there are enough decent moves here, and certainly the budget, that it could lead to some great films in the future. Even if this one isn’t there, yet, I pray they will receive the criticism I’ve given as critique from the inside, so to speak. Let Christians give glory to God by creating as well as we can, but let’s never stop trying harder.
The film was provided courtesy of Echolight Studios in exchange for a review. There were no stipulations placed on the content of the review itself. The opinion expressed here is solely that of the author.