'Breakthrough': Not groundbreaking, but still a solid offering

  • Movie Review
  • Sunday, 21 Apr 2019

When the gossip is so good that you have to whisper it.

It's every mother's worst nightmare. Your young son has just been in a terrible accident, and is not expected to survive. With little hope left, the only thing to do is to trust in doctors ... and in a higher power.

This scary scenario is the backbone of The Impossible, a religious biography written by Joyce Smith, with Ginger Kolbaba. It tells the true story of Smith's son John, who in 2015, fell through the ice of a frozen lake in Missouri.

Submerged for 15 minutes in subzero temperatures, most assume he isn't going to make it. His mother, however, never loses faith, and never stops praying for him. And it's probably no spoiler to say that a miracle happens.

The Impossible was a popular read in religious circles for a while, and so, it is no surprise that two years after its publication, a movie adaptation of it has been made. And this adaptation, Breakthrough proves to be quite a decent watch: A moderate faith-based drama which never gets too preachy or heavy-handed.

(From left) Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz), her son John (Marcel Ruiz) and husband Brian (Josh Lucas) at church.

One of this movie's strengths is that it is in capable hands. Its director, Roxann Dawson, has had much experience in television, having worked on shows such as Agents of SHIELD, Heroes and Crossing Jordan. As a result, the movie is technically sound, in contrast to a many other religious-based films, which are often made on budget. Special mention must be made of the film's underwater scenes, which are shot with a haunting beauty to them.

The cast is also solid. Chrissy Metz (TV's This Is Us) does a good job portraying Joyce, and young actor Marcel Ruiz, as John Smith, does well making a character with such an unmemorable name quite memorable.

Also providing solid character work are Mike Coulter (Luke Cage), who plays Tommy Shine, a first responder who helps to save John, and Dennis Haysbert as Dr Garrett, the unflappable surgeon who has to work on what he feels is a no-hope case.

And yes, the film has heavy Christian themes. There are many scenes of prayer as well as scenes of the characters in church. The soundtrack too is mainly from Christian music artistes.

So for more cynical or secular viewers, this may not be your cup of tea. Indeed, whether or not you enjoy this film will probably rely on whether you are willing to accept that the events are divine in nature.

For what it is, however, Breakthrough never feels too preachy. Its characters are portrayed as human and flawed; no Biblical paragons of virtue anywhere to be seen, thankfully. A character who doesn't believe in God has his views mostly respected and is not forced to convert at the end. And while its subject matter is miracles, it acknowledges the service of the doctors and rescuers in helping to save John Smith's life.

Breakthrough is not a perfect film. Its humorous scenes are very corny, mostly of the "dad joke" variety. References to popular culture are made which are going to be rather dated in a few years. And because of the way the story is framed, there is very little suspense as to whether John Smith will survive or not. This makes the end a bit of a foregone conclusion, and parts of it drag a bit.

All in all, Breakthrough is a relatively well made drama that despite a few flaws, manages to work quite well. A strong cast certainly help its material to work. Hopefully the film will help break the ice for more balanced faith films to be made in future.


Director: Roxann Dawson

Cast: Chrissy Metz, Mike Coulter, Topher Grace, Dennis Haysbert

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