As someone who has never read the original book by Francine Rivers, I was uncertain what to expect going into Redeeming Love. The poster seems to sell you on a Nicholas Sparks romance story while the trailers tell this story of a girl down on her luck saved by a guy who she’ll fall in love with. It’s punctuated by him being kind and standing up for her, which makes you think it might be a by-the-numbers romance that tugs on your heartstring. Yet, what is being told is way darker than I initially expected and is more a story of learning to live with your past sins, no matter how deep those scars have buried their ways into your life. All of that through the eyes of Abigail Cown‘s Angel.
The Fate: The Wingx Saga actress takes on quite a tough role, as she portrays a young girl who we’re introduced to as the most sought-after prostitute of the small town of Paradise. It doesn’t waste any time to solidify that this film is about her and the struggles she faced that would lead her down this path. I was surprised by how dark moments or even implications are set up, especially as I had no idea what to expect going in. To some degree, it was relentless what she had to go through in this story, even if it also sets up her reluctance to be loved later in her life. I still have that Nicholas Sparks poster of them hugging romantically with the sun in the back of my mind, only to be faced by this heavy and dramatic tale of a young woman fighting her way through an unkind and terrible 1850s.
All that is meant to change when she meets Tom Lewis‘ Michael, who is an interesting caricature in this film. He sees his life with her as a message from God and loves her unconditionally no matter what. It’s a fitting counterpoint to highlight her insecurities and demons, which is a motivating factor throughout the story for her pushing away. The only issue I had is that he’s seemingly too perfect at times. We do get moments of his mask cracking, one, in particular, being a highlight for his character. Yet, he just kind of goes back to being the guy who loves unconditionally no matter what. It’s an important part of the story, but I feel like adding some flaw to his character could’ve elevated the message of unconditional love just a bit more.
The set design is very impressive by recreating the 1850s through the small towns, cities, and how the people dressed back during the California Gold Rush. You wouldn’t think they filmed in South Africa. They use these locations well to convey the different atmosphere of being on a farm or in a city during that era. Each location felt distinct, and some of the use of the Golden hour was well executed. It was fun seeing so many actors, such as Logan Marshall-Green‘s Paul, running around with massive beards while Michael looked like he was perfectly trimmed all the time.
The authenticity does come at a price, as some characters use strong accents and when they mumble in certain scenes, it’s not easy to make out what exactly they are saying. Eric Dane‘s Duke, who is a pivotal character in the story, is supposed to be somewhat menacing but the accent didn’t really help the performance to make you feel intimidated. At times, when he said nothing it was way more powerful especially earlier in the film. Still, the story weaved around his character and the implications are quite heavy even if feels forgotten depending on where the plot is at a specific time.
Redeeming Love surprised me in telling a strong yet dark story that offers a glimpse of hope through the power of unconditional love. It doesn’t fall back on classical conventions of what you expect from a romance story, and while I believe Lewis‘ Michael could’ve done with a bit more fleshing out, the tale told is carried by Cowen‘s performance as Angel. Going in, I was expecting a simple romance story and afterward, I learned never to trust a poster again. Joking aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the story and it had me thinking a lot about human history and just how important love can be to help us come to terms with our darkest times.