I love a good historical romance novel. A nice period drama speaks my love language. The California gold rush-set Redeeming Love, however, left me feeling nothing but cold.
The novel on which the film is based somehow missed my ’90s bookshelf – probably due to my preference for European-set tales. Regardless of my lack of interest, however, Francine Rivers’ novel sold millions of copies. The story follows Michael Hosea (Tom Lewis), a young farmer who prays for a wife, and Angel (Abigail Cowen), a prostitute with a backstory so tragic it makes Romeo and Juliet feel like a fun, romantic romp.
Michael sees Angel walk through town and becomes convinced that she is the woman for him. Angel, however, tells him to get lost. Again. And again. And again. She runs away. Trouble finds her. Michael just patiently waits, trusting that he heard God correctly, and that Angel is meant for him.
The film serves up Michael as a faithful, forgiving hero while ignoring the disturbing fact that he completely refuses to listen to Angel. He has decided she is meant to be his wife, and he will not take no for an answer. Michael is a creep, boarding on a stalker. He is not a hero.
Angel, on the other hand, suffers unspeakable tragedy after tragedy and remains detached and stoic throughout. She is a victim who has somehow managed to survive, yet we are meant to see her as someone who needs forgiveness. We do not see her resiliency praised. We see her means of endurance as character flaws that need redemption.
Rivers executive produced and co-wrote the screenplay alongside director D.J. Caruso. I am not sure how much blame goes to Caruso, who is clearly more comfortable with action and thriller genres, but the script is over-packed with details from the novel. Those scenes that did not serve the story could have been scrapped. Instead, they remain and leave the movie without any build-up of chemistry between the two leads.
This film has extremely dark themes, including violence, rape, pedophilia, and incest. It does not approach those scenes in a gratuitous way, but potential viewers deserve a warning. They are not the easiest to watch.
Redeeming Love is not completely irredeemable. The sets and costumes are gorgeous. The acting – lack of chemistry between the leads aside – was adequate. I was invested enough in the story to care about the ending. I needed to see the bad guys get theirs. I had to see Angel find a happy ending. I just wanted her happy ending to arrive with significantly less judging, and perhaps with a guy who would actually listen to her.
Redeeming Love is in theaters on January 21, 2022.
About Redeeming Love
Rating: PG-13 (Partial Nudity|Mature Thematic Content|Sexual Content|Strong Violent Content)
Runtime: 2h 2m
Based on the bestselling novel by Francine Rivers, REDEEMING LOVE is a
powerful story of relentless love and perseverance as a young couple’s relationship clashes with the harsh realities of the California Gold Rush of 1850. It is a life-changing story of the power of unconditional and all-consuming love. Coming to theaters in 2022, REDEEMING LOVE shows there is no brokenness that love can’t heal.