“Redeeming Love” is a cross between a Christian movie, a mushy romance, and a demented exploitation film. This might sound like an intriguing combination, but the genres do not go well together, nor do they result in an entertaining trainwreck. On top of my many, many complaints about this movie, it cannot be forgotten that it is a poorly-paced slog that has no business taking up 134 minutes of your time. Really, it has no business taking up one minute of your time, let alone 134.
Set in the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century, the film follows “Angel” (Abigail Cowan) as she is saved from a life of prostitution by humble farmer Michael (Tom Lewis). I’ll start with him. This is a character that can only exist as a protagonist in a work of fiction. To be sure, there are many men in the real world that are kind, compassionate, respectful, generous, patient, and refuse to take advantage of women even though they have ample opportunity to do so. But this is a guy that pays a prostitute double just to flirt. “Angel” runs away from him at least three times during the movie, and the official reason is that she thinks he’s too good to be true or she isn’t worthy of him, but I suspect that on an unofficial level she sees that he’s perfect and perfect is boring.
Moving on to “Angel,” she’s lived a tragic life and she isn’t ready for an abrupt turn into wholesomeness. And this movie loves to revel in just how tragic that life has been. Several scenes depict “Angel” being beaten, raped, and otherwise abused, going back to when she was a child. There’s even an especially sick twist reminiscent of “Oldboy.” I know there’s an argument to be made that we need to see the darkness so it means more when she finally sees the light, but this movie is so dark for so long that the light barely registers when it does come.
Speaking of “the light,” this movie is based on a story from the Bible, but it must be one of those icky ones for hardcore scholars and not the kind that come up in general-audience Sunday services – the kind that come up in those internet articles with titles like, “The 5 Sickest Stories You’ll Ever Hear (Are Straight Out Of The Bible).” The movie has Christian-based financial backing, and while I can’t say that it just pays the bare minimum of lip service to the Christian market in order to get that backing (looking at you, “American Underdog”), it sure could be doing a lot more to be palatable to its target audience of people who want something more uplifting.
A huge pet peeve of mine is when movies censor themselves just enough to get a PG-13 rating instead of the R that the subject matter warrants. “Redeeming Love” is one of the most egregious examples of this practice that I have ever seen. It’s not just that there’s sex and violence in this movie, but it’s a heinous brand of sex and violence. But the hair is long enough that the necessary body parts are covered and the camera cuts away from prolonged beatings so we just hear punches and crying. In the ridiculous current system, that makes the movie clean enough to play to the same crowd as the Marvel movies. I’ll spare it from an F grade because it does a decent enough job recreating the time period, but this is the singular most unpleasant time I’ve had at the movies in years.
“Redeeming Love” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual content, partial nudity, and strong violent content. Its running time is 134 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.