Letters to God Movie Review
By Eric “the hat” Highland
When I was asked by Possibility Pictures publicist, Fred Williams, if HOSFU would be interested in screening the film Letters to God, I was ecstatic. So recently, while in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I put the movie on the screen of the Hilton boardroom and opened up my laptop to take notes.
What followed was an hour and fifty-three minutes of cinematic goodness, based on a true story.
Beginning with a beautiful aerial shot of anytown suburbia and music by Colin O’Malley that sets a serene mood for the film, we focus on a postman who is actively making his rounds. His final stop is 244 Laurel Lane, where he picks up a letter that a young boy has written to God.
The regular Laural Lane postman is soon reluctantly replaced by Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson), who is struggling with personal issues. As Brady begins the route, he meets and befriends Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire), the young boy who resides at 244 Laurel Lane.
Tyler is a normal boy, the child of a single parent family. His mother, brother and grandmother are all part of his household and he has a best friend named Sam, short for Samantha, who is adorably played by Bailee Madison (Bridge to Terebithia).
Tyler enjoys time with his friends, playing soccer and writing letters to God. Though his spirit is contagious, Tyler is battling with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
This story of Tyler, Brady and the letters will have a profound impact on anyone blessed enough to see it.
Here’s the scoop:
* Story. Patrick Doughtie, Art d’Allesandro, Sandra Thrift and Cullen Douglas are to be commended and recognized for the script they have written. Story is king and these four deliver a well written, well paced story that ranges from fun to serious to dramatic.
* Directing. David Nixon is a shining star in the firmament of Christian directors/producers. If he’s involved, sign me up. Across the board, David and his co-director Patrick Doughtie make the tough choices and right cuts to deliver a story that cuts to the heart and will soften even the hardest of them.
* Cinematography. The Director of Photography, Bob M. Scott, is also to be recognized. The quality of his work is superb and leaves little to critique.
* Acting. I’m pleased to say that the acting throughout was also superb. I’m blessed to see films with a message of hope, wrapped in a quality story, with solid acting. There are standout performances by Robin Lively, Jeffrey S.S. Johnson, Tanner Maguire and Bailee Madison. Also worth mentioning are the solid performances of Maree Cheatham and Ralph Waite. Of special note is the impressive performance of Michael Bolten, who convincingly plays a difficult role as Ben, the older brother of Tyler. Though a much smaller part, Salem Murphy’s portrayal of Dr. Rashaad is short, but superior.
* Chemistry. The chemistry between the actors is notable, as well. The scenes between Maree Cheatham and Michael Bolten are especially touching, as are the scenes between Ralph Waite, Tanner Maguire and Bailee Madison. One scene which stood out above the rest was a scene between Robin Lively and Maree Cheatham, in which Robin’s character cries out that she wishes people would stop quoting the Bible to her because it isn’t curing her son. A very powerful scene.
* Style. There is an intercut that takes place between a voiceover of Tyler’s letters to God, the post office supervisor reading them, and Tyler’s grandmother and brother praying for Tyler. The shot selection (shot composition, for you professionals out there) is brilliant, interesting and features differing angles and aerial shots.
* Production Design. Bravo, bravo, bravo! Mark Garner, the Letters to God production designer, is someone I want to meet – and soon. Wow, I was completely lost in the detailed sets. Well done to Garner’s art department, specifically his set decorator! Of special note are Ben’s room, the post office and Brady’s apartment.
* Lighting. There were scenes in this film that involved complex lighting situations. Lighting in a film often tells its own story and the gaffer, Marc Wostak, is to be commended.
* Music. Composer Colin O’Malley gets it just right. Letters to God takes you through a bevy of emotions and Colin’s work, supervised by David McKenna, does the trick. Well done!
Areas To Improve
* Although the acting as a whole is strong, some of the roles are not as well played. Any pastor-type role is always a difficult one to cast and play. Some productions go with a real pastor who is obviously not an actor, while other productions go with an actor who is most likely not a pastor. In this film, the role of Pastor Andy is not played as convincingly as other roles.
* At the end of Letters to God, there are various depictions of real life miraculous healings from cancer. However, Letters to God is not about a physical healing. It is about the impact that the Lord made through a young boy who had a relationship with Him. I’m not against the testimonials of hope at all. Please don’t misunderstand me. However, not all prayer requests end up in the sick being healed. There are many stories of inspiration that end in God calling his servant home. Sometimes, when all that is shown is healing, it can lead individuals to think that God always heals. In a movie such as this, I think that is a slippery slope. It would have been nice to see some stories of those who have battled cancer and been called home, along with those who have been miraculously healed.
The Bottom Line
* Letters to God is a touching, inspiring and penetrating tale of love, hope, forgiveness, redemption, friendship, pain, loss, joy and of the lasting impact made by a child’s faith. Any film that can effectively and convincingly take you through all of this in less than two hours is worthy of acclaim. The story, production quality and acting are all well done and if these three elements are present…well…you’ve got yourself a great film, worthy of adding to your library.
Setting the bar for their peers in the independent Christian filmmaking world, David Nixon, a producer of Fireproof and Facing the Giants, along with his company Possibility Pictures, Vivendi Entertainment, Cameron Kim Dawson and Tom Swanson, has produced an incredibly important movie in Letters to God.
I’m thankful for people in the industry like David Nixon, Patrick Doughtie (his co-director) and their companions. They are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ and are willing to be used as the Lord’s servants in a mighty way – through the medium of film.
We look forward to what God will do through you next! [Courtesy of HOSFU LC]
Aside from being CEO and Co-Founder of HOSFU LC, Eric Highland has been a federal law enforcement officer for the United States Coast Guard for two decades and has worked in youth ministry for the past seven years. Through HOSFU, Eric provides consulting services and networking-related advice, and is known for his engaging and personable public speaking. Eric will be on faculty at the 2010 Gideon Media Arts Conference & Film Festival.