All Saints (2017)

A- SDG Original source: National Catholic Register

All Saints opens with the most familiar of pious Hollywood setups, the clergyman tasked with saving a threatened church (school, orphanage, etc.). Then something unexpected and kind of wonderful happens.

Officially, John Corbett’s newly ordained Anglican clergyman, a former salesman named Michael Spurlock, is not charged with saving his first assignment, the dwindling rural parish of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. His ostensible mission is administering the parish only long enough to take an inventory and facilitate the sale of the property.

Directed by Steve Gomer. John Corbett, Cara Buono, Nelson Lee, Barry Corbin, Myles Moore, Gregory Alan Williams, David Keith. Columbia.

Artistic/Entertainment Value

Moral/Spiritual Value

+3

Age Appropriateness

Kids & Up*

MPAA Rating

PG

Caveat Spectator

Brief references to war crimes, including rape; a single rude word.

But it’s pretty obvious from the outset that Michael and his wife, Aimee (Stranger Things’ Cara Buono), will quickly become more committed to his remnant flock than his superiors intend. We can imagine, too, that the flock will grow. Less expected — if you don’t know the true story behind Steve Armour’s fact-based script, inspired by the real Michael Spurlock’s eponymous book — is where that growth will come from.

Early scenes are populated with folksy locals who would be at home in a standard faith-based film — a Kendrick brothers production, say. Notable among these is an irascible widowed Vietnam veteran named Forrest, played by the gravel-voiced Barry Corbin (No Country for Old Men), who dismisses Michael as a huckster in a clerical collar.

The Tennessee parishioners craning their necks at the mute Asian strangers filing into the pews behind them are a striking sign that All Saints means to push its characters — and maybe its target audience, to an extent — beyond their comfort zone.

Then a character appears who is sufficiently out of place that a welfare clerk, attempting to provide a translator, misses his place of origin by more than 2,000 miles, and Michael is driven to Google distant places and events to understand the challenges this man and those with him have faced and how they wound up at his church.

Ye Win (Nelson Lee, compellingly low-key and matter-of-fact) and his companions are not Korean, as the clerk thinks, but Karen (the emphasis is on the second syllable) — refugees from Myanmar (Burma), displaced by civil war and genocide. Like Michael, I hadn’t heard of the Karen people before, and did some Googling afterward. All Saints might be the first faith-based film I’ve ever seen that helped to expand my horizons in any way.

Drama, East Meets West, Religious Themes