The religious family drama BREAKTHROUGH – BACK TO LIFE Not only does it feature a top-class cast, but it is also based on an amazing story that is demonstrably true, at least as far as the medical facts are concerned. In our review, we reveal whether and how the film – after amazing success in the USA – can enlighten the local audience.
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The Plot Summary
John Smith (Marcel Ruiz) is 14 years old and lives with his loving adoptive parents Joyce (Chrissy Metz) and Brian (Josh Lucas) in a typical small town in the Midwest of the USA. He’s diligent in class, an above-average basketball player, popular with his classmates and secretly in love with sweet Abby (Maddy Martin) – so far, so perfect. But one winter day, after attending church every week, the boy goes out onto a frozen lake with his family. There he frolics around with two friends until they break through the thin ice. The two friends are quickly pulled out of the cold water by the emergency services, who were immediately alerted by an eyewitness. John, completely hypothermic and with no signs of life, can only be rescued after a quarter of an hour by the dedicated firefighter Tommy (Mike Colter). On the way to the hospital, the paramedics have little hope left. Once he gets to the clinic, attempts are made several times to revive him. However, 60 minutes after the accident, John’s death has to be determined. The completely desperate Joyce storms into the emergency room. Alone with the corpse, she begs God to give her her son back. And suddenly a pulse beat actually appears again…
Explanation of the Ending
No, this is not another zombie flick. What follows the rescue is rather a Christian edification tearjerker that can hardly be surpassed in terms of schmaltz and tear-jerking. The story is based on a true event in the small town of Lake St. Louis in the US state of Missouri in 2015. While the similarly thick faith film “The Cabin – A Weekend with God” was at least able to score points with imaginatively used visuals , debutant film director Roxann Dawson (known as half-Klingon B’Elanna Torres from “Star Trek: Voyager”) presents us with rather simple images. Visually, “Breakthrough – Back to Life” is more reminiscent of a routinely scaled-down TV work than what is shown would demand the big screen.
Chrissy Metz (Joyce), Marcel Ruiz (John), Josh Lucas (Brian).
And since we know, or we hear again and again from Joyce, that God will ultimately fix everything, further developments can quickly be foreseen. The script desperately tries to build up further drama during the hospital stay and the induced coma into which the treating doctor (Dennis Haysbert from “24”) has to put John. However, after being rescued from the ice and miraculously revived, the air quickly runs out. This circumstance proves to be a problem for the actors. In particular, “This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz and Colter, known from Netflix’s Marvel series “Luke Cage,” are clearly making an effort. However, their characters are written as far too one-dimensional do-gooders to be able to evoke real emotional feelings in non-religious viewers. Topher Grace’s alone (“BlacKkKlansman”) The church’s embodied, slightly unconventional pastor initially offers a hint of potential for friction. But he also quickly becomes boring as the plot progresses, when it’s all about praising the Lord and at the end even previous atheists like fireman Tommy sit in the church singing “Hallelujah”.
Of course, the impending death of a young person is not material for flippant jokes or other comedic interludes. A little more looseness and less pathos would have benefited the film. But even before the almost fatal accident occurs, the piety card is played for the first of many times. The fact that the small family is happy together and that the boy, instead of starving in a mountain village in Guatemala, is allowed to live in the affluence of the American middle class, is not due to chance, luck or even effort, the love and care of his parents, but only and only by the grace of the Heavenly Father. They have the Almighty to thank for everything good in their everyday lives – Joyce makes this clear right at the beginning during a table prayer.
Joyce finds her strength in faith in God.
And so that son and husband never forget it, they always go to the church service and discuss Bible verses with their friends during the week. Quotes from the “Book of Books” even adorn the kitchen and living room walls of the Smith home in large letters. This may seem strange to Central Europeans, but it is by no means exceptional in this part of the United States. There is a possible audience for such deeply religious stories on the other side of the Atlantic. And in fact: In North America, the film easily made back its budget of $14 million when it was released over the long Easter weekend in 2019. On these days, especially in ultra-conservative, rural areas, it clearly performed better than “Llorona’s Curse” and “Shazam!”, which were shown in provincial multiplexes at the same time and ranked ahead of it in the US cinema charts. Whether “Breakthrough”, which is dominated by almost unbearable sentimentality, clumsy symbolism, unimaginative camera and editing technology as well as blatant religious propaganda, can do similarly well in this country can at least be doubted due to these very obvious weaknesses.
Conclusion: A good advertising strip for the Christian church? No, the maudlin, schmaltzy family drama comes across as far too transparent and flat.
“Breakthrough – Back to Life” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from May 16th.