"The Gospel" opened on fewer than 1,000 screens back in October, easily recouping its small budget in the theater before moving on to DVD, where it just arrived.
"The Gospel," just out on DVD, includes some of the biggest names in gospel music. (Sony Screen Gems)
"The Gospel" updates the "prodigal son" story, using gospel music as its draw and church politics as its backdrop.
David Taylor and Charles Frank (Boris Kodjoe and Idris Elba, respectively) are teenagers and best friends when we meet them. David's father pastors the church, and both boys are "shining lights," headed for the ministry.
But family tragedy strikes, and David's course changes. Jump ahead 15 years, and David has left home for a singing career that has brought fame, fast women and a nagging manager (Omar Gooding). Charles, on the other hand, stays home, being groomed for the preaching post that David defaulted on.
David's life changes again, however, when he gets word that his father, Bishop Fred Taylor (Clifton Powell), is sick. The church is ailing as well, and Charles is beginning to angle for succession, promoting his "new vision" and dreams of being a mega-church.
David returns home, encounters Charles, and their dueling personalities emerge. In "The Gospel," faith is not just a marketing veneer. It's central to the story, and scenes of praying, close-ups on the Bible, and lines like "You need Jesus" are the norm.
The movie's real highlight, however, is the music. Musical sets make up virtually every other scene—and that's a good thing. While the script is generally OK, most of the plot points stick out painfully, and that's where the screenplay by writer-director Rob Hardy breaks down.
So, every other scene is a gospel set in an obvious—and smart—appeal to its gospel-loving base.
"The Gospel" suffers from too much melodrama and not enough nuance and subtlety. Every now and then a line suffers bad delivery, and it committed my pet peeve: having a character say to another, "It's complicated," when asked a question.
There are familiar storylines here: a pastor who might care for his church more than his own family; an upstart who thinks bigger is better and "vision" is everything; and a prodigal son, of course. The movie does build, though it slows a bit en route to its two-pronged climax that seems off. Tacked on to that is an unnecessary voice-over that wants to make sure no one missed the message.
But it's a clean script with some nice editing. It's not as enjoyable as "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" (which shared a moral and religious outlook), but better than "The Fighting Temptations."
Despite its shortcomings, when gospel singer Yolanda Adams belts out "Victory" near film's end, you're glad to be watching. And it's a positive development that Rob Hardy is getting this kind of film made and getting it out.
The DVD includes a filmmaker commentary, deleted scenes, extended musical performances and a nice making-of featurette.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements including suggestive material, and mild language. Reviewer's Note: Mild all over.
Director: Rob Hardy
Writer: Rob Hardy
Cast: David Taylor: Boris Kodjoe; Rev. Charles Frank: Idris Elba; Charlene Taylor Frank: Nona Gaye; Bishop Fred Taylor: Clifton Powell; Ernestine: Aloma Wright; Minister Hunter: Donnie McClurkin; Wesley: Omar Gooding; Rain Walker: Tamyra Gray.
The movie's official Web site is here.