In Theaters

Forgiveness is one of the most renewing and fulfilling acts we can undertake. However, it can also be one of the most difficult and challenging endeavors we can pursue, especially when a loved one, such as a family member, is involved. Nevertheless, the rewards that come from such a compassionate venture can be immeasurable. Such is the case with two new fact-based films that explore this subject from the standpoint of fathers and sons, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (web site, trailer) and “Honey Boy” (web site, trailer).

In “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” hard-nosed investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) may be good at his job, but he’s not the kind of person others readily warm up to, especially the subjects of his Esquire magazine articles. The gritty Gothamite has also become so jaded by his work that he seems on the verge of burnout, not a good state of mind for the father of a newborn. That’s why a change of scene is very much in order, an opportunity that comes when he’s invited to the wedding of his sister, Lorraine (Tammy Blanchard). There’s just one hitch: Lloyd’s wife, Andrea (Susan Kalechi Watson), informs him that his long-estranged father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), will be there.

Long-estranged father, Jerry (Chris Cooper, left), and son, Lloyd (Matthew Rhys, right), experience a tense moment at a family wedding in the new fact-based drama, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Photo by Lacey Terrell, courtesy © 2019 CTMG, Inc.

At the wedding, Lloyd does his best to avoid interacting with his dad, but eventually they run into one another, an encounter that results in a fist fight. Lloyd’s not proud of his behavior, but he has no regrets, either. In any event, though, he’s no better off emotionally or psychologically than he was before the wedding.

Upon his return to work, Lloyd’s editor (Christine Lahti) tells him about the magazine’s upcoming edition, a special issue devoted to heroes. She then gives him his assignment, a profile of children’s TV icon Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Lloyd is floored – and embarrassed – by the assignment, but he’s forced into taking it when his editor tells him that Mr. Rogers was the only one of the issue’s profile prospects who would agree to speak with him. And so, with his tail between his legs and a busted-up face, Lloyd travels to Pittsburgh to meet his subject – and a surprise destiny.

Hard-nosed investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, right) meets his unlikely interview subject, children’s TV icon Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks, left), in director Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Photo by Lacey Terrell, courtesy © 2019 CTMG, Inc.

When interviewing the soft-spoken television host, Lloyd is intrigued by, but uncomfortable with, his subject, especially when they switch roles and Mr. Rogers starts asking the questions, particularly about Lloyd’s family life. The TV host gently probes to get at the source of what is obviously some tremendous but long-buried and unresolved pain. In their sessions together, Lloyd repeatedly tries to withdraw, but, invariably, he keeps coming back, each time going deeper into his consciousness and coming to terms, albeit reluctantly, with the demons that haunt him. And, as time passes, remarkable developments occur. Who would have thought that a children’s television show host could work such wonders?

In a more somber vein, “Honey Boy” presents the semi-autobiographical tale of writer-actor Shia LaBeouf’s stormy relationship with his father while growing up as a child star in Hollywood. The story, told through flashbacks, examines the struggle of now-adult acting prodigy Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) as he goes through rehab. During his therapy sessions, Otis reflects back on his upbringing, when his younger self (Noah Jupe) seeks to cope with the many moods and tantrums of his unpredictable father, James (LaBeouf). Recalling these repressed memories is a painful process, to be sure, but it’s what it takes if Otis ever hopes to recover.

Former child star Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) comes to terms with his troubled past while going through rehab in the new semi-autobiographical film, “Honey Boy.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

As the story unfolds, the elder Otis comes face to face with considerable pain. At the same time, though, he also comes to see that he was the son of a father who stuck by him, despite his ample quirks and all through the many difficulties of their relationship. He also realizes that, no matter how tough James was on him, his dad always had his best interests at heart, even if it didn’t always seem that way. Having made many mistakes in his life, James, a former and failed rodeo clown, pushes Otis hard in his work, because he recognizes his son’s talent and wants to see him succeed, to not make the same errors that he did. Granted, James’s methods didn’t always work, and he constantly struggled to stay sober after his own recovery, but he was present much of the time in his son’s life. The adult Otis seeks to reconcile these conflicted feelings, learning how to accept – and to forgive – his father for who he was and what he did for him.

In both of these films, the anguish that both Lloyd and Otis experience is considerable. But, as they work through it, they also come to grips with realizing how the experiences of their younger selves helped make them who they are now as adults. Both admittedly have their issues as grown-ups, but they also have a lot going for them. For instance, would such success have come their way were it not for the experiences they had? That’s a question that probably can’t be answered definitively, but we do know for sure that they flourished in their careers, in spite of – or perhaps because of – their challenged upbringings. Difficulty often helps to strengthen our tenacity, our willingness to succeed, to become who we were truly meant to be. In situations like that, a little forgiveness may help us to connect the dots and realize how we became who we are, something for which we may even feel more than a little gratitude.

Acting prodigy Otis Lort (Noah Jupe, left) struggles with the many moods and quirks of his father, James (Shia LaBeouf, right), in director Alma Har’el’s latest offering, “Honey Boy.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Both of these excellent films feature fine performances. In director Marielle Heller’s “Beautiful Day,” one would swear that Tom Hanks is channeling the spirit of Mr. Rogers, a portrayal that earned him best supporting actor nominations in the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Award programs. And, in filmmaker Alma Har’el’s “Honey Boy,” LaBeouf is a revelation, delivering an Independent Spirit Award-nominated supporting performance that’s far better than any other he has ever given, backed by two fine portrayals by Hedges and Jupe, also an ISA supporting actor nominee. In addition, “Beautiful Day” earned a Critics Choice Award nomination for best adapted screenplay, while “Honey Boy” received additional Independent Spirit Award nods for best director and best screenplay. The moods of these two pictures are very different from one another, but they have a common root, one that offers a wealth of inspiration, especially to those who struggle with the kinds of issues experienced by the films’ protagonists.

In this holiday season, when the spirit of goodwill tends to be on everyone’s mind perhaps a little more than at other time of the year, it helps to have films like these offerings to remind us of the power of forgiveness. It may seem a little strange that personalities as diverse as Mr. Rogers and Shia LaBeouf can help to show us the rewards that come from invoking it in our lives. But, if doing so can help to bring peace of mind to the weary among us, there’s certainly something to be said for that.

Shia LaBeouf delivers a revelatory performance as a character based on his own father in the new semi-autobiographical drama, “Honey Boy.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Children’s TV icon Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) works his magic on an unlikely subject in the new fact-based drama, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Photo by Lacey Terrell, courtesy © 2019 CTMG, Inc.

Complete reviews of these films will be available in the near future by clicking here.

The Pursuit of an Ugly Truth

Exposing a painful truth is never easy. That’s especially the case when those who have much to lose hinder the process by nefariously intentional interference to conceal its ugly revelations. Thankfully, though, there are those who are staunchly committed to seeing that justice, honesty and integrity are served, a quest detailed in the riveting new historical drama, “The Report” (web site, trailer).

Things changed considerably for many individuals and institutions in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver), that meant an alteration in his career path. He felt a need to become involved in something that would make a difference in the aftermath of that horrendous day, so he sought work in the intelligence field. He spent several years amassing experience with the FBI before becoming a Senate staffer working for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (Annette Bening). In this new capacity, Jones was charged with investigating the government’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) program, a controversial initiative implemented by the Bush Administration to use new methods for drawing out information from suspected terrorists.

Fearless and idealistic crusaders Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (Annette Bening, left) and Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver, right) seek to expose the dark secrets of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) program in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the gripping new fact-based political thriller, “The Report.” Photo by Atsushi Nishjima, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Through a series of flashbacks, the genesis of the EIT program is detailed to illustrate what Jones was assigned to investigate. Viewers witness examples of such techniques as waterboarding, extreme sleep deprivation and even simulated coffin burials that government officials employed in hopes of extracting vital information about terrorist organizations and their plans for possible future attacks. However, given the questionable techniques used, it became widely apparent that they constituted torture, going beyond what were generally considered acceptable interrogation practices, measures seen as unacceptable for a nation that claimed to represent itself as the pinnacle of justice and fair treatment of prisoners.

But the severity of the treatment was not the only problem. Due to the intensity of the techniques and the perceived need to repeat them – sometimes as many as 186 times – to draw out crucial information, it became an expensive program, especially given the many suspects who were apprehended and interrogated. Even more distressing, though, was the fact that the techniques didn’t work; suspects ended up saying anything to get the torture to stop, which meant that government officials were being told lies or were being supplied with information already in their possession. The suspects themselves often weren’t who they were believed to be, and, even if they were involved with terrorist groups, they were usually low-level participants, far from the big players the government thought it had captured. (So much for the effectiveness of a supposedly “better” approach.)

Jones, who initially believed that the government should do whatever it could to keep the public safe, gradually had a change of heart the further he got into his investigation. He came to see the fiscal waste, the inhumane treatment and the undeniable ineffectiveness of the program up close and in great detail. While many in the Bush Administration saw it as an essential element of its antiterrorism efforts, Jones and Feinstein came to realize it was nothing more than a huge, expensive embarrassment for the nation, one that didn’t yield any new or meaningful intelligence – and that ultimately didn’t prevent any of the alleged attacks that were supposedly in the works. Even the eventual capture of alleged 9/11 mastermind Osama bin-Laden came about as a result of information derived from sources other than those subjected to the EIT program.

Having written a nearly 7,000-page report about the dark secrets of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) program, Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) struggles to get the document released in the face of strong opposition in director Scott Z. Burns’s new political thriller, “The Report.” Photo by Atsushi Nishjima, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Amassing these findings wasn’t easy, either. The CIA, the driving force behind the EIT program, was less than cooperative, implementing measures that hindered the investigation. For instance, the agency refused to allow its staff members to be interviewed. Thus, to get the information he needed, Jones was forced into sorting through voluminous emails and other archived communications, a tedious and time-consuming process for someone with limited staff to assist him. What’s more, all of this work had to be conducted at a clandestine CIA facility from which nothing could be removed under penalty of prosecution.

Understandably, Jones became frustrated by the process, especially when he uncovered increasingly damning evidence about the program. Opposition from the intelligence community, backed by sympathetic (some would say collaborative) parties within other branches of government (including Congress), stifled Jones’s efforts. In addition, to dilute and counter whatever credibility he was beginning to develop, those seeking to protect the program made sure its supposed accomplishments were sufficiently trumpeted in the media, a move aimed at solidifying public support. This even became evident through entertainment vehicles like the film “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012), a Hollywood production detailing the “official” events involved in the raid on bin-Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan.

For Jones, this exercise was an eye-opener. As someone who initially firmly believed in the government’s official efforts, he gradually became disillusioned, even angry, at what he found. Keeping his composure in light of his mission became increasingly difficult, especially when attempts at preventing his findings from being revealed were ramped up and officially sanctioned by members of Congress. Such was the case not only during the Republican administration of George W. Bush but also during what was seen as the supposedly friendlier Democratic administration of Barack Obama. These increasingly onerous obstacles eventually drove Jones to consider actions that placed his own career in jeopardy in order to make the truth known. He risked the possibility of prosecution for his ideals – and those of what he believed were the nation’s as well.

Fortunately, throughout this process, Jones had Feinstein’s backing, a fierce level of support that gave him what he needed but that simultaneously threatened to damage her own clout and credibility. Nevertheless, Jones and Feinstein were committed to releasing their nearly 7,000-page report, a battle that pitted them against powerful Washington influences and prompted them to seek the assistance of some seemingly unlikely allies, including those on the other side of the political aisle. To them, the truth was more important than any potentially embarrassing consequences that might emerge from these revelations. But, then, for a nation that claims to stand as a shining example of democracy for the world, this was seen as essential to minimize the damage wrought by the questionable deeds and blatant hypocrisy that led them to this point.

Risking her reputation to fight for the release of a document critical of the intelligence community, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (Golden Globe Award best supporting actress nominee Annette Bening) stands her ground in the face of significant opposition in “The Report,” now available for streaming on Photo by Atsushi Nishjima, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

The 9/11 tragedy took so many of us by surprise that we were unsure how to react. Some were afraid and desperately wanted security. But not everyone was in agreement on how to go about attaining it. Many sought safety while preserving justice. Others, however, pursued protection at any cost, even if that meant resorting to vengeful and questionable tactics. Admittedly, this was new territory for virtually everyone, so coming to consensus on how to proceed was far from easy, especially on what approaches to employ. The differences among us were driven by our individual outlooks, the variances in which were great, a disparity that accounted for the diverse outcomes that resulted while addressing the aforementioned need for security.

Many Americans wanted to be safe but to achieve that security through tough but fair and just means. That’s exemplified here by Jones’s sincere idealism. However, there were also those who believed in attaining protection by any means possible, even if by unapologetically tapping into more ruthless tactics driven by qualities like vengeance and vindictiveness. And that outlook is apparent here in the attitudes and practices of those in power, those who, at least initially, wielded the greatest and most readily deployable reserves of resources needed for effectively and clandestinely carrying out such plans. Those methods were artfully clothed in zealous, patriotic rhetoric designed to cultivate the support of a wary but grateful public that was intentionally shielded from knowing the truth about what was really going on. Had citizens known what their elected officials were really up to – and how their tax dollars were being spent – they may not have been so willing to give their leaders a blank check to provide them with the security they sought, especially since that protection didn’t come about as a result of those questionable tactics in the first place. This is where the work of Jones and Feinstein became so important. They sought to expose the deception, the atrocities and the waste involved in the EIT program. They believed in providing security to the public, to be sure, but they also believed in upholding the principles that the country claimed to stand for in achieving that goal.

Jones and Feinstein faced many obstacles in bringing that information to light, but they had something going for them that their opponents didn’t – integrity. They were being honest with themselves and their constituents in how and why they went after the evidence they sought. They believed in being above board and making sure their investigation and its findings reflected that. Their results bore that out, too. Meanwhile, those who developed and implemented the EIT program ultimately failed because it arose out of beliefs and assertions that were innately short on integrity. On some level, they knew their tactics didn’t align with the ideals that America stood for, even if they tried using the terrorist threat to “justify” what they were doing. It probably had something to do with why they also fiercely tried to keep information about the program under wraps, rationalizing their efforts as being in the interests of national security, even though that undertaking probably had more to do with keeping their merciless practices from seeing the light of day. But, then, those outcomes shouldn’t come as any surprise from a plan that arose from a fundamental lack of integrity to begin with.

Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm), Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, walks a tightrope to accommodate the needs of those with differing political agendas in the new fact-based drama, “The Report.” Photo by Atsushi Nishjima, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Given what Jones and Feinstein were up against, making meaningful progress required some creative thinking. First, they had to overcome whatever fears they might have had. Considering that they were facing the considerable power of the intelligence community, it’s not too hard to believe that they could have easily been intimidated. Then there was the need to become innovative in their thinking. Considering the expert manipulative prowess of intelligence operatives, Jones and Feinstein faced the real possibility of being deceived, misdirected and stonewalled in their work. This thus called for employing inventive strategies and practices, such as drawing upon the information embedded in agency emails and cables in lieu of evidence gleaned from in-person interviews with those who participated in the program. They also drew heavily upon information online, some of which was surprisingly revelatory (perhaps even to the CIA itself). These approaches may have been more time-consuming and arduous, but they nevertheless yielded vast veins on intelligence gold – material that, had it not surfaced, wouldn’t have given the investigators what they needed to prepare their report.

The same was true when government insiders tried to block the release of Jones’s report, an initiative driven largely by partisan considerations. To counter this, Feinstein saw the need to step across the political aisle and recruit Republican support, an effort that earned her the backing of Sen John McCain (R-AZ). With the investigation now receiving bipartisan support – especially with that of two highly influential Senators from different political camps – opponents of the release of its findings found it more difficult to find friends who would give them and the program unlimited cover.

Most of all, though, the work of Jones and Feinstein reveals their commitment to their personal destiny. The investigators were dedicated to exposing the truth about the EIT program, even in the face of potentially high political and career costs. They were convinced that it was the right thing to do, no matter how challenging, and they pursued it with unflinching zeal, even when the going got tough. Those who claim to call themselves true defenders of American ideals should thank them for what they did – for exposing an ugly and hypocritical incident in our nation’s history and making a betrayed public aware of what really went on.

This meticulously detailed, methodically explained history of the efforts to prepare the controversial Senate report is one of the year’s most underrated offerings. Its excellent performances by Driver, Golden Globe Award nominee Annette Bening and a fine ensemble of supporting players enliven a story that otherwise could have been potentially tedious. The picture’s razor-sharp script not only delivers the facts, but it does so with edgy wit and just the right amount of cynicism to expose the true nature of what was really going on during a turbulent period in the nation’s history, when ethics were placed on the chopping block in favor of expediency and the fulfillment of dubious agendas. It’s a smart, savvy, eye-opening offering that every truly loyal American should see.

Unfortunately, “The Report” has not received the notoriety and attention it deserves. The movie played the film festival circuit during the fall, followed by a limited (and all-too-brief) theatrical run. Thankfully, though, the picture is now available for streaming on

For all of the Daniel Joneses of the world, there are those who would willingly do just the opposite of what he sought to accomplish. That’s unfortunate, too, for every scandal and misdeed that remains unexposed hurts us all in the long run. Given that, we can only hope that the courageous crusaders among us find the wherewithal – and the support – to step up and pursue their destiny, to shed light on the darkness and make it apparent for all to see. That’s truly heroic, a quest to which we should all aspire.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

The Struggle To Liberate Trapped Courage

Working up the necessary courage to conquer fears that we believe cannot be vanquished can be one of the most difficult and terrifying challenges we can undertake. The effect can be paralyzing, leaving us stuck in a hellish limbo that feels like it has no end. But, with the right perspective, that need not be the case as a group of victimized individuals discover for themselves in the new fact-based French drama, “By the Grace of God” (“Grâce à Dieu”) (web site, trailer).

Middle-aged family man Alexandre Guérin (Melvil Poupaud) appears to lead a happy life with his wife, Marie (Aurélia Petit), and his five children in Lyon, France. But lurking beneath the veneer of happiness lies a dark secret that he has rarely revealed – that he was sexually abused by a priest, Fr. Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley), while growing up. The series of indiscretions occurred primarily while Alexandre was at a church-sponsored scout camp in Ireland at which Fr. Preynat served as counselor – and resident predator. It’s something that has haunted Alexandre ever since.

When Alexandre learns that his aging abuser has escaped prosecution in the time since then – and that Fr. Preynat has always been transferred to a new parish whenever issues arose – he’s appalled, especially when he hears that the troubled priest has been reassigned yet again to a new venue in which he’s charged with teaching Bible study classes to young children. He decides to take action by speaking up and calling out the abuses to the head of the diocese, Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret), hoping that it will lead to some kind of action. He gives a detailed, explicit statement to the Cardinal’s aide, Régine Mayor (Martine Erhel), who arranges an intervention between Alexandre and Preynat. At that meeting, the victim confronts his perpetrator, who freely admits his acts but who refuses to apologize.

Middle-aged husband and father Alexandre Guérin (Melvil Poupaud) struggles with his memories of childhood abuse at the hands of a priest in the new fact-based drama, “By the Grace of God” (“Grâce à Dieu”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Needless to say, Alexandre is left disappointed. Upset at the outcome, he arranges to meet the Cardinal in person. He sympathizes with Alexandre’s plight, but he refuses to take any action that might damage the church’s reputation with the public, a decision that further outrages the aggrieved victim. Alexandre thus decides to take matters into his own hands, a plan that he hopes will result in prosecution.

In launching this effort, however, Alexandre learns that he, like many other of Preynat’s victims, is unable to bring suit, because the 20-year statute of limitations has run on whatever potential claim he might try to make. If he’s to get any meaningful results, he needs to identify others who are still eligible to legitimately file a claim.

Alexandre begins his quest by networking with others, starting with his friend Olivier (Nicolas Bridet), who was also abused. Through connections developed by the two of them, they find others who were also victimized by Fr. Preynat, most notably Gilles Perrot (Eric Caravaca) and François Debord (Denis Ménochet), who take the lead in establishing a formal victims’ network on the Internet. This, in turn, brings them into contact with Emmanuel Thomassin (Swann Arlaud), a victim whose statute of limitations has not yet expired. At Last, Alexandre, Gilles and François have found someone who can bring a valid and timely case.

Emmanuel is troubled by his experience, it having left him saddled with a variety of personal problems, both psychological and physical. However, he summons up the courage to make a statement to the police, an investigation led by Capt. Cousteau (Frédéric Pierrot), who aggressively seeks to prosecute. Justice, it seems, may at last be on the way.

Of course, Preynat is not the only one on the hook. When word begins to circulate that his superiors knew what was going on and took no action – despite Preynat’s pleas for help to them about his problem – suddenly the church hierarchy gets put under the microscope. And, as the victims’ network turns up the heat, what began as one man’s search for justice turns into a full-blown public scandal, with considerable consequences on the line.

Childhood sexual abuse victims Alexandre Guérin (Melvil Poupaud, left), François Debord (Denis Ménochet, center) and Gilles Perrot (Eric Caravaca, right) organize an Internet-based victims’ network to connect with others affected in “By the Grace of God” (“Grâce à Dieu”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

The issue of predatory priests has affected Roman Catholic dioceses around the globe, and the fallout has been extensive, especially in light of the church’s delayed and inadequate responses to the problem. It has become the subject of widespread media coverage, and the story has made its way into a number of films, such as this one, as well as the Academy Award winner for best picture, “Spotlight” (2015). It’s a story that has shaken the faith and trust that many have long placed in this centuries-old religious institution. However, the human cost of this travesty has not surfaced in detail as much as it has through this picture, bringing the question down to a more personal scale than perhaps any of the other treatment of this subject thus far.

Many of the personal considerations that this film raises concern basic issues of how individuals in their developmental years relate to the world around them. In this crucially formative age, they learn the ways of the world and form beliefs about how it works and what their role in it should be. These beliefs are critical, for they shape their holders’ views of the world, especially where matters involving their relationships to authority figures are concerned. They learn about concepts like obedience and conformity and what it takes to comply with them, based on what people they come to trust tell them to do – even if what they’re told is not in their best interests. This is important because what transpires helps to set their belief patterns for living. And, given the fact that they have been intentionally led to believe that the heinous acts inflicted upon them are perfectly acceptable by those they’ve been taught to trust implicitly, the deception they’ve been falsely guided into embracing makes the crimes that much more odious.

For the victims who were so horribly misled, this abomination created a number of problems. To begin with, it caused them to erroneously accept the validity of the abhorrent acts perpetrated against them. In turn, that has led them to embrace a belief formation process – and, subsequently, a view of reality and its creation – that’s far from healthy. And, once they discover what’s been allowed to transpire, they’re left confused, disillusioned, betrayed and damaged in countless ways, affecting them psychologically, emotionally, and, in some cases, physically.

Emmanuel Thomassin (Swann Arlaud), a childhood sexual abuse victim still eligible to file suit against his perpetrator, contemplates how to proceed in director François Ozon’s “By the Grace of God” (“Grâce à Dieu”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

For many of the victims, once they learned these painful truths, they were stricken in fear. They were unable to come forward for various reasons. Some were ashamed of their behavior and were reluctant to admit it, even though they did not initiate it. Others were afraid to speak up for fear of the implications that could come for calling out authority figures, particularly authority figures who they had been taught to trust. And still others feared the power of an institution that they believed could come down on them for becoming whistleblowers, with ramifications that included everything from ridicule to perhaps even the fate of their eternal souls.

To rectify this situation, however, the victims had to learn how to overcome these fears, to be willing to step up and call out those who abused them. This meant rewriting their beliefs about their fears and replacing them with courage-based notions that would give them the strength and conviction to do what it would take to speak their minds and publicly identify the perpetrators, as well as their enablers and collaborators.

This was not easy, to be sure. Through flashbacks involving their younger selves (Davan Collin, Jules Gauzelin, Noah Richard), Alexandre, François and Emmanuel relive what happened to them, this time with a new awareness of what took place in light of their new beliefs. In addition to bolstering themselves in the face of these heightened apprehensions, the victims also had to muster the courage needed to face the blowback that would come from their actions, particularly in such a staunchly Catholic nation as France, where the institution has long enjoyed virtually unflinchingly blind public support. The challenge in that, obviously, was considerable.

What’s more, the victims not only faced opposition from the church, but also from sources closer to home. Immediate family members, such as Alexandre’s parents (Laurence Roy, Jacques Lagarde) and François’s parents (Hélène Vincent, François Chattot), were unsupportive – sometimes even critical – of their sons’ activism. At the time of the abuse, their parents were generally indifferent or unwilling to do anything, even when they had their own suspicions, either because they didn’t want to make waves or out of fear of what the church might do to them. And, when their sons spoke up as adults, their support was lacking or tepid; Alexandre’s parents encouraged him to let go of what happened all those years ago, hoping that the situation would just go away; and François’s parents, though upset at what transpired and embarrassed by their lack of past oversight, were noticeably uncomfortable with everything coming to the surface and in the bright light of day.

And then there was the difficulty involved in coping with side effects that grew out of the abuse. Some of those who contacted the support network through its hotline were noticeably shaken by their experiences, admitting to all manner of issues from emotional upset to suicide attempts. Among the principals in this story, Emmanuel was most affected, suffering from emotional fallout that caused him difficulty in developing and sustaining romantic relationships, as well as physical troubles including seizures and Peyronie’s disease. For most individuals, these conditions would be challenging enough to contend with in and of themselves, but, when added to the issues here, it made the lives of the affected that much more burdensome.

Sexual abuse survivor Alexandre Guérin (Melvil Poupaud, right) confronts his abuser, Fr. Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley, left), in “By the Grace of God” (“Grâce à Dieu”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

To add insult to injury, the victims also had to deal with the inadequate action of the church. Based on how the diocese handled Fr. Preynat’s indiscretions, coupled with statements by the Cardinal, it was apparent that the ministerial powers-that-be just didn’t get what was going on, unable to recognize the severity of the problem and unaware of what needed to be done. Fr. Preynat’s own pleas for help going unanswered by the church speaks volumes. But, even more egregiously, when the Cardinal observed that the church was “thankfully” spared even greater liability – a result of the tolling of the statute of limitations in many cases – by the grace of God, he was roundly criticized for his ignorance and indifference, something he explained away as a poor choice of words. Clearly he failed to recognize the gravity of the situation, believing his institution to be above such menial secular matters. Beliefs like that can truly get one in trouble.

Fortunately, the victims managed to successfully put all of the foregoing considerations aside, casting off their fears, taking back their personal power and invoking the courage needed to address the problems that had gone long unattended. They mustered up the fortitude to foster change that not only benefitted many of their own, but that also led to new protections to safeguard against potential future incidents. And, if that’s not the grace of God (or the Universe or whatever term best suits you), I don’t know what is.

While the film sensitively deals with serious subject matter and becomes steadily more compelling as the narrative plays out, the story overall is sometimes a little too “tame” in addressing its material. What’s more, even though the picture aims to address the personal impact of this story on its principals more so than other such films have, it sometimes becomes bogged down by extraneous anecdotal material that adds little in the way of meaningful content, either in the individuals’ experiences or the larger scenario of which they’re a part. It’s easy to gets the impression that the film’s heart is in the right place but that it isn’t willing to go for the jugular more than it probably should have, perhaps a shortcoming of a French production taking on the French Catholic Church. Although the institution in question may wield considerable power, that doesn’t immunize it against justified scrutiny and criticism, no matter how much good work it may do. Director François Ozon’s offering gives a voice to those who traditionally have not had one, but it simultaneously misses the chance to sufficiently take on an organization that could have – and should have – done more than it did to keep an atrocity from getting out of hand.

“By the Grace of God” recently completed a limited theatrical run and is currently no longer in moviehouses. However, DVD and streaming releases are in the works, with details to follow.

Surviving ordeals like those suffered by the characters in this film may seem impossible at the time we’re going through them. However, by looking within to discover the reserves of strength that reside within us, we can begin the process of liberating this resource and putting it to use for ourselves and others like us. And the miracles its release can work are often truly astounding, bringing much-needed relief, justice and rectification. That’s quite a feat, but then there’s no telling what we can accomplish when we combine our considerable capabilities with those of the grace of God.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

We’re Now on iHeart Radio!

The Good Media Network is pleased to announce that its podcasts are now featured on iHeart Radio! Fans of Frankiesense & More can find it by clicking here. And those interested in TGMN’s sister broadcast, Mission Unstoppable, can find it by clicking here. Archived editions of past shows are available on both links. So, if you’re looking for a current show or you missed a past episode, or if you just want to go back and listen to your favorites again, check out the iHeart sites and enjoy!

Copyright © 2019, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.