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Cinema in Focus: ‘To Save a Life’

Despite its weaknesses, this uplifting film conveys a worthy message

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

The authenticity of the youth ministry portrayed in the film To Save a Life reveals an author with personal experience. But author Jim Britts is not only a youth pastor, he is also a trained filmmaker. So when his church in Oceanside realized that the best way to influence a culture is through film, Britts and Senior Pastor Steve Foster combined their experience to create this uplifting story.

This strength, however, is also the film’s weakness. An example is that the youth pastor in the film, Chris Vaughn (Joshua Weigel), is winsome and articulate as he provides a nuanced ministry to students, while the senior pastor, Mark Rivers (D. David Morin), is one-dimensional and lacks the usual wisdom and compassion his position requires.

Additionally, the film presents a stereotypical view of the difficulties of life. Although life is often hard and every person has his or her share of pain, the film weaves pain into everything. It doesn’t ring true.

The common grace of God at work in all people, including those outside the church, seems to be missing. Though life is completed by relationship with Jesus Christ, the Christian belief of common grace or prevenient grace expresses the truth that God is present throughout human experience and extends his love to all people.

The teenager in Britts’ tale is Jake Taylor (Randy Wayne). A goodhearted athlete whose best friend, Roger Dawson (Robert Bailey Jr.), commits suicide their senior year, Jake has to admit his abandonment of his childhood friend. As is often the case when a friend or family member takes his or her own life, Jake struggles with guilt and fear. But when Pastor Vaughn reaches out to him, this tragedy becomes an impetus for change.

The angst of high school in all of its insecurities, drinking games and teen pregnancies provides the opportunity for an ensemble cast to create a believable story. The beautiful but insecure cheerleader is Amy Briggs (Deja Kreutzberg). The jock pushing the alcohol is Doug Moore (Steven Crowder). The isolated gamer is Johnny Garcia (Sean Michael), the troubled preacher’s kid is Danny Rivers (Bubba Lewis) and the evangelistic teenager is Andrea Stevens (Kim Hidalgo), to mention only a few.

Seldom do we see a film that understands Christian ministry as well as To Save a Life. The message that Christians are not to be religious, but rather to bring God’s unconditional love into daily life is a worthy message, and we recommend the film.

Discussion:

» The decision of Jake to be there for Amy demonstrates his ability to put her needs before his own dreams. In what way do you believe this is an expression of Jake’s faith?

» It is the nature of high school that people divide into cliques. Why do you think this is such a human trait?

» Why do you think the pastor’s son reveled in harming other people’s lives when his father was committed to caring for people?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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