Final Solution weaves several stories together against the backdrop of the last days of apartheid in South Africa.

And they are true. Gerrit Wolfaardt was indeed a white supremacist who threw fuel on the fire of violence and hatred until the efforts of some compassionate and cautious heroes led him to a change of heart and mind.

The reality of this recent history hits home hard through the filmmakers’ dedication to details. A good deal of this film looks like it could be documentary material filmed as riots, assassinations, terrorism, and the ensuing grief and carnage rocked the dusty streets of South Africa.

Director Christopher Krusen’s work highlights just how people with hateful agendas take good ideas and warp them to their own convenience, bending language to deceive and destroy. We see Wolfaardt being handed books like Mein Kampf while he ignores others like Cry, the Beloved Country. He comes to believe that black Africans have no souls, and that it pleases God for white people to wipe them out. (The “final solution” of the title refers to Wolfaardt’s strategy for genocide.) Fear keeps him from looking around much-he doesn’t want to find out that he’s wrong. Scripture verses yanked from their context, divorced from any discussion of Jesus’s ministry and the Apostles’ mission to all people, operate as senseless slogans, their meanings misunderstood and perverted.

The film also turns an unflinching eye at the violence dealt out by white supremacists on the black African inhabitants of these neighborhoods, just as it gives us an excruciating look at what happens when they oppressed rise up against their aggressors. Where most cinema conspires to get its audience cheering at acts of vengeance, this action comes across as similarly horrifying.

It is also affecting to see what counteracts hateful attitudes. I was afraid that the answer was going to be “true love”… that all it would take was a woman. And the story as it is told here does come close to that. If this were not a true story, the fact that his romantic interest is a compassionate teacher of South African children would seem like an unlikely contrivance.

But Celeste (Liezel van der Merwe) serves more as a trickster than a seductress. She knows she has his attention and his heart, and she is clear-eyed enough to know that the answer is not to treat him with equal and opposite aggression. Instead she treats him as a human being of deep conviction, and decides to lure him toward experiences that will allow him to come to the right conclusions on his own. What a refreshingly intelligent change of pace from the usual “Teach Those Racists a Lesson” story!

Wolfaardt begins to second guess his education in hate when he begins to spend time with the South Africans and finds his affections and respect altered by the experience. The more he actually sees them living their lives, the more he interacts with them, the harder it is to write them off as lesser beings, as proper targets for an assassin’s rifle.

The film’s strongest virtue is that its storyteller knows that the struggle against hate is not over once the hateful man repents. There is a great deal of damage to repair. There are habits to break. There is forgiveness to be sought. And Krusen strives to represent that in a sort of “trial” held in the church. (The most interesting thing about these scene to me is the fact that it is not police that keep these hot-tempered proceedings in order, but the presence of the press, documenting everyone’s behavior.)

Gerrit Wolfaardt, played with sincerity by Jan Ellis, does not quite come to life as a complex and convincing leader of a racist movement the way Ryan Gosling did in last year’s most riveting portrayal of racism The Believer. He seems somehow simpler, an angry young man ready to embrace whatever arguments give him an excuse to harden his fear of the unknown into hatred.

But this is not so much a problem with Ellis as it is with the script in the last act of the film. We can see how his contempt leads to anger-anger is easy to portray, easy to understand, and the film seems almost proud of its graphic displays of violence. We do not, however, follow him deeply enough into his re-consideration of matters, when Scripture suddenly takes hold on his heart. The film makes a powerful point-that close examination of God’s word leads to peace, forgiveness, and compassion, not division and war. But for this viewer, the transformation happened too quickly. We do not see much of the days that follow, of the learning to overcome long-practiced hatred. It is as though he is changed overnight from mean-spirited bigot into a sincere bearded missionary.

And since Gerritt is the film’s only three-dimensional character, it is hard for us to find the rest of the situation compelling. Gerritt’s partners-in-crime are never more than sketchily developed buffoons. In the last act, just as we think things are coming to a close, we are introduced to the story of another character, but it feels out of place.

The last act stumbles off the course of focused show-don’t-tell storytelling and wanders into the territory of moral platitudes and preachiness. The violent leader of the angry South African protesters suddenly gives up his grudge, walks away from the debate, and starts waxing philosophical about how Jesus may have been a black man. Unlikely, and inconsistent with the understated tone of what had come before.

Nevertheless, as a Christian film studio, Messenger Films is setting a good example. Here is a production company that strives to tell a good story, inspire the viewers, and reveal hope and meaning without treating the viewer like a kid at a lecture. They avoiding stooping to the scare tactics employed by other Christian media forces.

It’s an example worth following for Christians working in art and entertainment. We need to rediscover what great art always proves — that the truth is much more effective when people are drawn to it for its beauty, excellence, complexity, and provocative ambiguity than they are when it is mediocre, oversimplified, and heavy-handed. If you can only offer stories and visions that have been “cleaned up,” your audience will not accept your vision as an authentic picture of the way things are, and they will reject what you bring them as artificial, or worse — propaganda. It is the artist’s job to hold up a mirror and let the truth of the matter do its work for those who stop to look closely.

For his success in adhering to higher standards of art, for his restraint, and for his honesty, I applaud Cristóbal Krusen. His first film is a promising work.