Film Review: All Saints

All the more moving for its restraint.
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All Saints is a faith-based film that even atheists can embrace. Steve Gomer’s drama about the mutually beneficial relationship that develops between a small-town church and a group of Burmese refugees certainly doesn’t neglect its religious themes. But it mainly stresses the humanity of its characters and the importance of community ties. It does this in a manner that is never heavy-handed, making the true-life tale all the more inspiring.  

John Corbett plays the lead role of Michael Spurlock, who gave up a corporate sales career to become the pastor of All Saints, a tiny church in Smyrna, Tennessee. Michael’s business experience made him ideally suited for his new position, since the church, whose congregation was only in the double digits, faced financial ruin. He had only two months before he’d be forced to close the church and see developers replace it with a big-box store.

But when a group of Karen refugees from war-torn Burma move into the community, Michael decides that the best way to both save the church and help the financially strapped newcomers would be to turn the rich land surrounding the church into a farm.

Michael’s idea, which he credits to divine inspiration, is met with skepticism by many members of the community. In an example of the film’s down-to-earth dialogue, one church official warns him, “Be sure it’s God’s voice and not your own.”

There are those who sign onto the ambitious plan, among them Ye Win (Nelson Lee), one of the refugees who has extensive farming experience, and, more reluctantly, Forrest (Barry Corbin), an elderly, cantankerous church member who had taken an instant dislike to the new pastor. The scheme proves extremely difficult to realize, with various obstacles thrown in the congregation’s way, including a devastating rainfall that requires an emergency shipment of sandbags. To say that the story eventually ends happily is not much of a spoiler.

Working from an effective script by Steve Armour, the filmmaker (whose extensive credits include many dramatic TV-series episodes and his too-little-seen feature debut gem, 1987’s Sweet Lorraine) infuses the proceedings with a classical visual quality befitting the setting and storyline. Although we don’t learn until the end credits that the film was shot using the actual church and several of its real-life congregants, it doesn’t come as a surprise considering how authentic it feels.

Corbett uses his natural charm and air of affability to fine effect as the small-town pastor who becomes revitalized by his newfound mission. Cara Buono (“Stranger Things”) is equally effective as Michael’s supportive wife, while Lee and Corbin (the latter reuniting with Corbett decades after “Northern Exposure”) provide solid support as two very different men who nonetheless bond over their similar war experiences.  

By avoiding excessive proselytizing and instead simply and effectively relating its moving tale, All Saints proves stirring in a way many of its cinematic brethren do not.--The Hollywood Reporter

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