"The Grace Card" is an easy target for petty mockery. Another in a long line of well-intentioned Christian films that fails to succeed on the fundamental levels which defines good filmmaking, it raises a curious question of "What happened to successful, spiritual filmmaking?" First time director David G. Evans, working off a script from Howard Klausner definitely succeeds in delivering his message of forgiveness to the audience, but does so in a manner with all the subtlety of a bat upside the head. "The Grace Card" shows signs of failure early on, beginning with the tragedy of Bill McDonald's (Michael Joiner) youngest son dying tragically during a police pursuit and jumping forward to McDonald a tired, angry, bigoted police officer who finds himself partnered with the fast rising Sam Wright (Mike Higgenbottom), an African American cop who openly sings spiritual songs on the beat.
To director Evans' and the cinematographer's credit, "The Grace Card" does artistically try and establish the differences between Wright and McDonald's home lives through clever uses of color and lighting. The spiritual, happy Wright lives in a home with warm colors and bright lights, while McDonald resides in a darkly colored, darkly lit abode; dinner is held under the most Spartan of lights. The subtlety ends there as every meal at the McDonald house is a dour experience with financial woes complicated by his older son, Blake's (Robert Erickson) failing grades at school and drug use. It's not hard to guess that family wise, the Wright household is nearly perfect, with only Sam's struggles as a preacher being a source of woe.
With such extremes to work off of, "The Grace Card" gets bogged down by unrealistic dialogue that is cringe worthy enough, if it weren't for stiff, TV commercial quality performances from supporting characters like Sam's wife (Dawntoya Thomason). The film does nothing to hide its intention of seeing McDonald hitting bottom and Sam and God being his salvation. To pad the time, Sam seeks counsel for his own troubles from his grandfather (Louis Gossett Jr) who does little more than set up the rest of Sam's journey to the end of the film. Ultimately, the movie 's second rate feel and poor structure will only appeal to devout Christians, who likely support films like this because there is no higher quality alternative. The non-believers who somehow stumble on "The Grace Card" won't make it to the end or instead choose to mock the proceedings.
Christian filmmaking has just as much of a right to exist in filmdom in the same way brainless action films and romantic comedies. They shouldn't however, be bound to pilot themselves from explicit to a fault scripts and B (or lower) level acting. There was a time when Hollywood could literally adapt a Bible story and people of all beliefs came to watch, not so much for the religious theme, but because the movie was well made if not an outright masterpiece. Now, tales to inspire exist in a land of straight-to-DVD obscurity, relegated to a punch line by cynics. "The Grace Card" tries really hard and has a positive message, but sadly ends up another title in a wasteland of bad movies.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is stronger than one might expect. Detail is above average, with a mild amount of edge enhancement visible, while contrast levels hold up remarkably in both interior and exterior scenes. The specific color palettes chosen for the lead characters aren't blatantly different but noticeable enough to strike the balance of light/dark or warm/cold while still managing to retain a natural look.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track suffers from some overuse of the surrounds for background effects. In a handful of scenes, minor atmospheric noises are so noticeable it becomes a distraction. Equally disappointing is the film's lack of real low-end activity. Everything else holds up nicely for the dramatic nature of the film, with strong, clear dialogue delivery. Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai 5.1 tracks are also included as well as English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese and Thai subtitles.
First up is a Cast and Creator commentary, largely only of interest to fans of the film. "Starting a Grace Awakening" is your typical congratulatory making-of featurette. A collection of deleted scenes and outtakes are included as well as a music video for the song "Healing Begins" by Tenth Avenue North. Rounding out the extras is a featurette titled "Wayne (Stephen Dervan) Returns" and the opening scene from the upcoming film, "Courageous."
Well-meaning, but poorly executed, "The Grace Card" is a shining example of how the Christian genre of film has gained a reputation as second-rate. Despite a solid technical presentation, the fundamental flaws of the film are too great to recommend the film to general audiences. Skip It.