While it's not without some issues technical and otherwise, director Rob Hardy's "The Gospel" makes up for some of its shortcomings with fine performances and a lot of energy. The picture opens with Pastor Fred Taylor (Clifton Powell) looking over his church, performing for an audience that's completely connected, and following his every word.
After the brief open, the film skips ahead to find that David Taylor (Boris Kodjoe), the pastor's son, is now a popular R & B star whose latest hit is climbing the charts. He gets a call from Atlanta that his father, who he's never quite seen eye-to-eye with, has fallen ill with cancer. However, when he arrives, he's surprised to find someone he's known since childhood - Charles Frank (Idris Elba), who has plans to turn the church, currently down on its luck, into a financially-driven enterprise. Soon enough, David is questioning his old friend's intentions in turning the church around, and eventually decides to make his own attempt at leading the church. He also strikes up a romance with a local woman (Tamyra Gray, from "American Idol" and "Boston Public".)
Wonderful scenes of gospel performance come fairly frequently, and although the scenes are not exactly captured well (the biggest issue is that they're too heavily edited), the energy and passion is still evident. The performances are adequate, as although the picture gets a little melodramatic at times, the cast certainly gets into character and remains convincing (although Kodjoe never quite works as a singer.)
Aside from the over-editing of some of the gospel performances (as well as other scenes, but its the performances where this is most obvious), there are certainly some other technical issues, such as cinematography. Although it was shot on 35mm, the picture sometimes looks like a low-budget digital video production: colors can appear rather muddy, and sharpness and detail are unremarkable and inconsistent. Sets also seem fairly minimally decorated, and while the film had a reported $5m budget, I would have guessed it'd cost less. Ironing out some of the technical issues could have benefitted the film quite a bit.
While it's got its share of issues (we've seen this story in some form many times before, the film never really explores its issues too deeply and finally, the picture runs a good 20 minutes overlong at nearly two hours), "The Gospel" manages to be "PG" without feeling "PG", and the performances do have a lot of heart - they're not perfect, but the actors certainly seem invested in the material. Overall, I liked aspects of "The Gospel", but felt the film was uneven and I often wondered if a different writer & director could have made something more memorable out of the material.
VIDEO: "The Gospel" is presented by 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The picture quality is not great, but it seems to be more an issue of the filmmaking than the transfer. Sharpness and detail are inconsistent and average at best, with the majority of the film having a somewhat soft (and occasionally hazy) appearance.
Thankfully, the picture didn't run into too many of the usual issues, as no edge enhancement appeared, and only a few minor artifacts were spotted in a handful of scenes. Print flaws were not seen, nor was any shimmering. Colors looked a bit oversaturated and smeary in some scenes and fine in others.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation faired somewhat better. The gospel performances get nice reinforcement from the rear spakers and these scenes provide a nice sense of envelopment. However, the remainder of the time, the audio folds up completely and becomes entirely dialogue-driven. Audio quality was fine, with clear dialogue/singing.
EXTRAS: Director Rob Hardy and producer William Packer provide an audio commentary for the picture. The two provide a fine chat discussing issues like casting, shooting on locations, working with the actors and other production details, like scenes that were cut.
Additionally, the DVD offers a 15-minute "behind-the-scenes" featurette, 9 deleted scenes (no optional commentary, but it seems the scenes were cut for pacing reasons), extended performances of "Victory", "You Are Good" and "Children Sing"; a photo montage and previews for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "The Gospel"'s story is predictable and familiar, and the film's technical issues do take away from it. However, the picture operates with good intentions, energy and heart, and the performances are solid. Overall, it's an uneven, but watchable drama. The DVD edition provides so-so video quality, along with fine audio and a nice helping of supplements. Rent it.