Except for some condensing of events into a shorter time frame, the movie Breakthrough follows the actual events of January 2015 rather, um, faithfully: 14-year-old John Smith and two pals fell through the ice into a frigid lake in St. Charles, Missouri. The friends stayed on the surface and were rescued with few ill effects, while John spent 15 minutes under water and was pulled out without a pulse, his apparently lifeless body rushed to the hospital.
This is an inspirational, Christian-targeted movie, so you know where it’s going. There will be prayers and a candlelight vigil. Doctors will issue grim pronouncements that parents will refuse to believe. A rescue worker will question his atheism. A miracle is inevitable.
And yet for all that, Breakthrough is a relatively straight-forward movie, its A-minus-list cast presenting the story in a grounded, human context rather than as some kind of supernatural spectacle. In real life, John Noble — the wanna-be hip evangelical preacher played by Topher Grace — reported a vision of angels in the boy’s hospital room, “putting his brain back together.” Wisely, the movie omits the angels and leaves it to the audience to draw their own conclusions.
Yes, there’s plenty of sincere, out-loud praying and talk of God’s love and mercy, but that’s just who these people are, especially John’s mom, Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz from TV’s This Is Us). Dad (Josh Lucas) has doubts, and young John (Marcel Ruiz) was a bit of a jerk before the accident. The screenplay, written by Grant Nieporte from Joyce’s ghost-written memoir, isn’t exactly warts and all, but it’s effective storytelling, presented by Roxann Dawson in a visually routine package that’s consistent with her extensive experience as an itinerant TV director.
On the first Easter weekend in several years without an over-earnest Biblical adaptation, family audiences, people of faith and anyone exhausted by superheroes and supernatural horror should find warm comfort in Breakthrough.
Grade: B. Rated PG. Showing at the AMC River Hills, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark.
(Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)