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by Philip Martin | September 21, 2012 at 3:51 a.m.
“Papa Joe” Bradford (Michael Ealy) is committed to making a better life for the children in his impoverished community in the faith-based film Unconditional.

— Unconditional

82 Cast: Michael Ealy, Lynn Collins, Bruce McGill Director: Brent McCorkle Rating: PG-13, for some violent content and mature thematic elements Running time: 97 minutes

It is unfortunate Unconditional — the first film produced by Harbinger, a company “created to produce high quality theatrical films that honor God” — should open in a week when so many other movies are fighting for the opening weekend. This is a little faith-based film (“inspired by true events”) that frankly deserves better than it’s likely to get, either in this necessarily truncated review or at the box office.

It’s a genre piece, and it’s uneven (for once the juvenile actors in a movie aren’t as good as the grownups) but it’s not didactic or overly preachy and it makes some trenchant points about despair. And while I’m not sure that the Sam Crawford (Lynn Collins) character has any real-life analogue, “Papa” Joe Bradford (Michael Ealy) is a real guy, a former computer hacker who has been doing good work with so-called “at-risk” kids on the meaner streets of Nashville, Tenn., for years.

Sam, a children’s book illustrator and author, is understandably distraught at the beginning of the film — her perfect husband, Billy, has been shot dead by a thug in a red hooded sweatshirt (quick, put out an APB on Adam Sandler). She’s about to take her own life (in an overtly dramatic way, on a rainy city street at night) when she’s interrupted by an accident involving a couple of children and she takes a time out from her selfpity to hustle them to the hospital, where she encounters Joe, an old school friend she hasn’t seen for years. He invites her to visit him, and the children he cares for in “the Commons.” She agrees and her life is changed.

The arc is predictable, but Ealy and Collins are agreeable presences who work well together, and the wonderful Bruce McGill shows up as racially biased police detective.

While the script is a bit thin and the murder mystery overlay feels a bit forced, Unconditional is a gentle and sincere movie about the power and potential of love. And Papa Joe is a character worth getting to know.

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 09/21/2012

Print Headline: Unconditional


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