Breakthrough, rated PG
Breakthrough is a well-made inspirational film based on a true story. The film was directed by Roxann Dawson in her film directorial debut, and written by Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds), based on the 2017 book Breakthrough: The Miraculous True Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her Child’s Resurrection by Joyce Smith and Ginger Kolbaba. The film is set in the St. Louis area, but was actually shot in Winnipeg, Manitoba. DeVon Franklin is a producer of the film and Golden State Warriors’ superstar Stephen Curry is an executive producer.
Fourteen-year-old John Smith, played by Marcel Ruiz (One Day at a Time) is the adopted son of Brian, played by Josh Lucas (A Beautiful Mind, Sweet Home Alabama), and Joyce, played by Chrissy Metz (This is Us). John doesn’t get along with his mother, doesn’t do his homework, and really only comes alive when he is playing basketball. He is also hurt because his birth mother abandoned him, leading the Smiths to adopt him at nine months of age from a Guatemalan orphanage.
Topher Grace (BlacKkKlansman) plays Pastor Jason Noble, the Smith’s new pastor from California. Pastor Nobel does a number of things that irritate Joyce: kicking them out of a meeting room, bringing rap music into the church worship service (Lecrae appears in a cameo rapping along with Phil Wickham singing Wickham’s “This is Amazing Grace”) and using the television show “The Bachelor” as a sermon illustration. Joyce doesn’t even like the pastor’s haircut.
On a sunny Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, 2015, John and two of his friends are playing on the frozen surface of Lake Sainte Louise in St. Charles, Missouri. Suddenly, the boys fall through the thin ice, with John sinking all the way to the bottom of the lake in freezing water. The police are able to rescue John’s two friends, but as time goes on, the firefighters look to recover John’s body, rather than rescue him. Then Tommy, one of the firemen, played by Mike Colter (Luke Cage, The Defenders), thinks he hears his boss’s voice telling him to go back and look in a particular place under the ice. It’s there that he finds John, and they pull him to the surface. But it’s been fifteen minutes since John fell through the ice into the freezing water. When they bring John to the surface, they find that he does not have a pulse. For all intents and purposes, John is clinically dead. Still, he is rushed to a local hospital, where after John is worked on by medical personnel, they call in Joyce to say goodbye to her son.
In an emotional scene, Joyce cries out to Jesus and the Holy Spirit to breathe life into her son. Incredibly, John’s heart weakly begins to beat. John is then air-lifted to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. There, the world-renowned Dr. Garrett, played by Golden Globe nominee Dennis Haysbert (24) the physician heading up John’s case, tells Brian and Joyce that John is not expected to live through the night. But Joyce will not accept that.
Will John ever wake up? And if he does, will he suffer irreparable brain damage from his brain being deprived of oxygen for so long?
The film shows the main characters warts and all, something that is not always done in a faith-based film. Joyce is seen as controlling and unkind. Brian is not always there to support Joyce when she needs him most. John is portrayed as being difficult for his adoptive parents, and early in the film, Pastor Noble, is shown as being rude and trying too hard to be perceived as cool.
Content concerns for small children include the tense scenes of the boys falling through the ice and their rescue, and the medical procedures to save John’s life. Themes in the film include adoption, prayer, faith, family healing, questioning why God heals some, but not others and pride.
Breakthrough is a well-made (acted, written and directed) film based on a true story. Chrissy Metz delivers a strong performance as Joyce, and she is well supported by Dennis Haysbert, Mike Colter, Topher Grace, Marcel Ruiz, and Josh Lucas. The production quality is much better than most faith-based films that I’ve seen.