“I Can Only Imagine.” It’s one word that has powerful depth when put into song and it is what drives both the movie as well as the inspiration behind what is said to be one of the most known songs in America.
The movie, based on the real life story of songwriter, Bart Milliard, (J. Michael Finley in his debut role) shows the journey of Bart, as a singer songwriter, from childhood to musical sensation. The acting of the entire cast including both versions of Bart and Shannon helps to capture the heart of the story as a true piece of artwork and ultimately a love letter of redemption between a son and father. In that way, regardless of religion or not, anyone who sees the movie or hears the song is immediately touched by its message.
Filmed primarily in Oklahoma City, the imagery captures the time period perfectly as the film picks up in 1985 when Young Bart (Brody Rose, Gifted) is listening to na old school tape player, which we learn is how he’s able to cope with the abuse in his house at the hands of his father (Dennis Quaid). From there, we see a change in time as audio formats change from tape players to CDs with the bands demo tapes later, which The Erwin Brothers, as directors, paid great attention to the detail to ensure that everything was time specific. In addition, the period continuity was spot on – it is extremely important as time changes to add details in the background such as what is playing on the movie theater marquee (i.e Jaws and Goonies, for the late eighties scene.
Additionally, the audience has a little bit more knowledge and satisfaction as the film intros the song’s popularity, as well as a live session with the real life MercyMe, featuring Bart Milliard. It ultimately allows the audience to compare the actors to the group in a way that one might see just why the film cast unknowns. Only one thing falters; though the acting was good, based on the impact of the song, I thought the performances could have been slightly stronger. There is a growth, especially in both Brody’s as well as J Michael Finley’s performances. Going into the film, knowing how powerful the song is, I had high expectations and the performances, of Finley in particular, started off as a little weak. It made me wonder if it would have been different had it been a more seasoned actor. The young boy, Brody, had a little bit more experience, especially coming from last year’s Gifted. The experience showed especially on his face when he had the transformation from being abused by his father to that of the Christian Camp experience. That being said, it definitely appears as if they were coached on the emotion of the scenes and in that way they did do a fair job – not exceptional, but good nonetheless.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
At an hour and fifty minutes, I Can Only Imagine is a film that will have you fully engaged in the backstory. Once you know the truth, you won’t be able to listen to the song without a new sense of emotion. The film contains all that and more and although when one puts it next to other religious movies including God’s Not Dead, maybe it’s not as strong as the others. In the end, it still gets the point across with the message of redemption that will bring even the hardest of souls to a bit of emotion, though there may not be enough to shed tears.
See I Can Only Imagine in a theater near you. It’s a great to the long list of religious movie greats.