I Am…Gabriel, a Review

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.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • Jthompson

    I heard the trailer on the radio, and just from the audio, I could tell it wasn’t a blockbuster. We’ve had conversations along these lines before, but christian movies are an oddity to me.
    As a Christian wanting to get into making movies, I am concerned and troubled that the majority of movies that represent us are sub par and often incorrect in its theology.
    I can stand a cheaply made movie if the themes and story were intriguing and more importantly theologically and Biblically correct. Often the first obstacles Christian film-makers run into is $$$. Non-Profits and churches rely on donations. This being the case, unless you find a millionaire ready to fund your movie, you are stuck using actors from your church and as many volunteer people as possible. Maybe even the majority of the money being put into one big explosion to add “realism” to the movie.
    but again, I don’t mind that if the story and truth is real.

    I have not seen this movie, and hesitate to say anything against it, but from your review I can pretty much understand the issues here.

    I have much more to say, but this is not the time. Thanks for your review James!

  • jamesfarnold

    If you’d like, I can bring the film when I visit you this weekend.

    Yeah, I don’t even want to say that technical problems are my biggest issue. They don’t help, though, when the story isn’t compelling.

    Here’s the thing: money is a big deal, and that makes it hard. But there are a ton of solid Christians writing solidly Christian scripts, that no one is willing to film. Those should be easier to find.

  • skykid

    Unlike you my expectations were pretty high for the movie based on its synopsis and its promos I have seen online / and the cover artwork which is skilfully crafted / . Yet when I saw and consecutively review the film I felt very disappointment from the quality of the production and the way the story was presented . I agree with most of your points – and feel that the film could have had much better appeal if the message of hope and revival was introduced in more subtle manner .

  • Truth

    I haven’t seen this film yet but a friend raves about it. She loves Christian films but to me most that I have seen are as you say, not Biblically sound or just very disappointing, the acting is often quite stilted and I find myself looking at my watch to see how much longer is left. I too want Christian media to excel but we need to improve

  • LexiMendez555

    I am a friend of gavin (gabe) and thought the movie was great!!

  • JBRavineGang

    Thanks for the review. It appears trustworthy and I won’t waste my time on the film but listen to a good sermon by a passionate Reformed theology preacher instead tonight. Peace and grace.