I saw Woman, Thou Art Loosed just a couple of hours before seeing Ray, and wow, what a combination.

Both films are about individuals who suffer childhood trauma. Both are about community dynamics in the South. Both central characters respond to their difficulties by getting hooked on drugs and misbehaving. Both are heavily chained by their weaknesses and mistakes. Both get in trouble with the law. And then, they respond very very differently. One buys his way out of trouble, the other ends up in prison.

Michelle is a compelling character, and Kimberly Elise is quite good in the role. If this film were winning a larger audience, she’d probably win an Oscar nomination.

Bishop T.D. Jakes, whose spiritual self-help book was the inspiration for the film, doesn’t embarass himself. His performance is quiet and tender where it should be. And while the film spend far too much time exhibiting Jakes “performing” worship on the platform of his super-church, this footage does provide a completely convincing context for the pivotal scene in the story.

The supporting cast are sufficient to the task, sometimes excellent. Clifton Powell, who also has an important role in Ray, does an excellent job of portraying a “snake,” a man who can sweet talk a woman into believing him and loving him even as he betrays her on the very same day.

The focus on Jakes is the film’s primary weakness. It’s hard not to take it as anything but an infomercial inserted into an otherwise responsible bit of storyteling. I’m not terribly upset about this. Jakes clearly could have turned down the volume on his own fame and reputation, and I wish there were fewer shots of the congregation entraptured by his preaching. But since the film is very much about his experiences and the stories he’s heard from suffering women, I appreciated getting to see the real context. It’s not often that a story set in a particular context features the real people who live there and who have actually experienced many of the story’s details.

There are some powerful moments in this film, and I can’t believe I’m saying that about something written by the same guy who wrote the lamentable Hangman’s Curse. Here, he develops convincing scenarios, believable characters, and actually shows as much interest in storytelling as preaching.

Unfortunately, he still has a ways to go as far as learning the basic rule of art: Show, don’t tell. The film rushes the ending, pretty much telling us about the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation rather than showing it.

Nevertheless, I’m impressed that the film avoids big scenes of tearful embraces, reunions, and happily-ever-after redemption. The conclusion demonstrates powerful restraint.

For a movie that, for better or worse, bears the stamp of “Christian movie,” this is one of the finer examples. It’s storytelling that’s heavy on the sermonizing, but it’s a good story, well-acted, produced with admirable production values, and it steers clear of so many common mistakes of “Christian movies.”

Frankly, after seeing both this and Ray, I can’t say I think Ray is much superior. Weighing their strengths and weaknesses, I’m giving both of them a B+.


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