I’ve written about Christian movies on here before and how they tend to be a mixed bag. However 2006’s The Second Chance is one of the basically decent ones I wish would get made more often. Starring Grammy and Dove Award winner, Michael W. Smith, Jeff Obafemi Carr and J. Don Ferguson, the film is unusually straight-shooting and gritty for a Christian movie. It’s one I’ve seen several times, but each time it hits me from a different angle.
The film opens at the Second Chance Community Church in the projects of an unnamed city (it’s Nashville). Renowned Christian singer and author Ethan Jenkins (Michael W. Smith) is helping serve at a soup kitchen with Pastor Jake Sanders (Jeff Obafemi Carr). The mayor (Bobby Daniels) is also serving, and there are news cameras everywhere.
Ethan does everything with an eye to keeping his halo shiny. When he accidently spills gravy on Jonesy’s (Rico Moody) tie, Ethan briefly glances at the camera crew before giving Jonesy his own tie.
On Sunday morning, Jake and his wife, Amanda (Lisa Arrindell) visit their sister church and main benefactor, The Rock, where Ethan’s dad, Jeremiah (J. Don Ferguson) is the pastor. The Rock is the most mega of megachurches, with a humongous campus, a two-hundred voice choir, and a full orchestra in every service. Ethan’s in charge of the music, of course, which means standing ovations are commonplace.
The congregants are affluent and insulated in their bubbles, and don’t take to their snug little worlds being upset. Jake tells them there’s too much of a tendency to throw money at a problem, and unless the people of The Rock are willing to give of their time, they can just “keep their damn money.”
Yeah, we can all guess how that goes over.
The church folks are aghast that Jake would act this way, but more than anything, they blame Ethan for allowing Jake pulpit time. In fact, the church’s board of directors think Ethan’s too big for his britches.
Jeremiah thinks it’s best if Ethan works with Jake at Second Chance for two weeks to give him some perspective. Ethan thinks he’s being sent to the doghouse, which, in a way, he is, because he really has no idea what’s ahead of him.
Ethan shows up to find Jake leading a Bible study for recovering addicts who need help relating to others. The dress code is button-downs and ties. Jake tells them to look people in the eye, shake hands when introduced, and take responsibility for their actions instead of blaming The Man. One guy, Javier, comes in late and tells the group his wife took the kids and went back to El Paso. The rest of the group gets up and prays for him.
Jake is just as pertubed as Ethan when he finds out about the new arrangements, but is finally like, “OK, whatever.” The next day, Ethan follows Jake around as they pass out sandwiches to homeless people. Well, they try, anyway–Jake’s usual spot in the park has been comandeered by a group of nuns with chafing dishes and giant speakers blaring Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Jake sheepishly hands over the bags of sack lunches and he and Ethan go get some fried chicken.
Working at Second Chance is an education for Ethan in more ways than one. He may have toured the world, but he’s greener than he knows. He’s completely clueless as to how to behave around recovering addicts even though he was in court-ordered rehab, he’s never met people who have had to flee from wartorn countries with nothing but the clothes on their backs. And he’s certainly never had to deal with gang members who want out of gangs or gangs using children in drug deals. When the youth pastor, Tony, is beaten up one night while helping a gang defector, Ethan wonders what he’s been doing with his life. Could he stand up for someone the way Tony stood up for that kid?
Ethan’s priorities start changing. He learns to have compassion for people and think about others. Jake’s not off the hook, either, though. He’s endlessly jaded and cynical, so he has to learn to look past his own prejudices.
As is often the case with wake-up call stories like this, there comes a point when a bird of prey looms over the proceedings, and in this case it’s the mayor and certain board members of The Rock eyeballing Second Chance’s property for a ball park.
Jake and Amanda aren’t interested because they know that without the church’s presence the already blighted neighborhood will disintegrate even further into drugs and gang violence, but Mr. Mayor and Company don’t take no for an answer. The Second Chance congregation is barely out of the building on their last Sunday morning before the construction crew shows up with a wrecking ball.
The Second Chance is an atypical movie for the Christian market. No football. No End Times. No awkwardness trying to be comedy. What it does have are enough drug references to garner a PG-13 rating. It also deals frankly with what goes on in many lower-income neighborhoods, which is something that’s potentially tough for certain American Christians to acknowledge. It can be easier to let ministry happen inside church doors than to go out where the needs are.
The movie was directed by producer-writer-record label executive-singer-songwriter Steve Taylor, who’s no stranger to shaking up the Christian establishment or, for that matter, any other one. For him to direct a film like The Second Chance is a no-brainer. However, instead of his typical wry satire, Taylor goes for verisimilitude and it works.
Real broken glass, trash and homeless people are part of The Second Chance, although a lot of the people are paid extras. Since these are actual streets and buildings instead of a studio backlot, it looks as if Director of Photography Ben Pearson was limited in how many tracking shots he could set up. The picture gets wiggly at times and the cuts are quick when there’s a lot of activity, but it’s not as bad as some footage we could mention. Who knows, Pearson may have wanted it that way.
The acting is fairly decent, though it could have been a lot angrier than it was, given the amount of contention between the characters. Jeff Carr’s Jake in particular looks like he has some rage below the surface. He was able to provide acting tips to Michael W. Smith, who, with his long history in the public eye, is used to cameras. Smith gets by with a shove, and he does very well in his first movie. However, and I say this with the utmost respect, he’s not a trained actor. Smith’s best moments are when he’s at a piano, because he gets a little glint in his eyes that anyone who has seen him perform will know well–the man is a musical dynamo who genuinely enjoys communicating with people (See a sample here).
Some have criticized this film for focusing too much on race. Jake is also a target of bone-picking, because certain viewers think he hates white people, he’s too arrogant, he’s a potty-mouth, and so on. I don’t know if I agree with that, because while race is definitely a factor, and at some spots it’s handled awkwardly, it’s a red herring when considering the film as a whole.
Seeing as he helps folks of all colors, I don’t know if Jake is getting on white people so much as he is responding to inauthenticity. A guy who has to deal with teenagers getting shot at and little kids used in drug deals is probably not going to be too impressed by a luxe megachurch that can’t stand so much as a speck of dust on the floor. Jake probably looks at all of that and sees people who are comfortable in their ivory tower.
Ethan sums things up: “Comfort is seeking sin.”
That doesn’t mean Christians have to reside in the projects to be authentic, but doing the will of God can require ditching the comfort zone. Not always, but enough to be a pattern.
I’ve seen The Second Chance several times before and I always related to it, as my guys and I used to live in a place that could easily be considered a ghetto. Fortunately in our case there weren’t gangs, at least not ones with guns, but by the end we were basically prisoners in our own apartment. What finally drove us out was that the unit was mold-infested and my son was getting pneumonia-like symptoms every other month. Plus we almost got robbed, but that’s another story.
However, the film resonated differently with me this time around. Suffice it to say, the Holy Spirit is leading our family through a transition. We’re fine, but this move is not without controversy, and if we stay where we’ve been comfortable, what does it say?
Spoiler alert: The Holy Spirit always wins. Everyone else will just have to deal. Sorry to be cryptic; if I say more I’ll be airing dirty laundry.
But I digress.
For those who are familiar with Christian films, The Second Chance might be a refreshing change of pace. It also might be shocking and sobering. Come to think of it, it might be shocking and sobering for those who aren’t familiar with the genre. Either way, it’s a highly watchable film that will get viewers thinking, no matter where they stand.
Coming up in October:
If anyone would like to participate, please see these fine folks:
- Erica at Poppity Talks Classic Film
- Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews
- Steve at MovieMovie BlogBlog II
- Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
- Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood
We’ve also got some mysterious and spooky surprises on offer, so watch this space. Thanks for reading, all, and see you next time…
The Second Chance is available on DVD from Amazon.