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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Unconditional is a faith-based drama based on events in the life of "Papa" Joe Bradford, who has devoted most of his life to helping at-risk youth in Nashville. His devotion to combating racism, bullying, poverty, and other social ills informs every turn in the story. A senseless gun murder is a major plot point, and flashbacks show a bloodied man dying on the ground. A grieving widow gets ready to commit suicide and instead saves a child who was hit by a car. Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. A man with kidney disease is seen undergoing dialysis.
What's the story?
Successful children's book author Sam (Lynn Collins) is grieving after the murder two years before of her young husband, Billy (Diego Klattenhoff). UNCONDITIONAL finds her about to commit suicide, with a pistol in the alley where he died. She's interrupted when a car hits a child in front of her and she steps in to help the stricken girl and her brother, Macon (Kwesi Boakye), two orphans living in the projects. They attend an after-school center there run by their surrogate father, "Papa" Joe Bradford (Michael Ealy). Sam recognizes him as her long-lost best friend from childhood. Flashbacks show the fatherless young black boy arriving at Sam's largely white Nashville school, greeted with racist hatred by everyone but Sam. Joe has since graduated from college with an engineering degree, spent years in prison for hacking, and returned to the projects to help at-risk kids. In the projects, Sam encounters "T" (Cedric Pendleton), who she immediately begins to suspect killed her husband. Her grief and anger lead her to jump to conclusions that seem racist. Sam begins to turn her life around when T tells her his story. At closing credits, the movie notes that 28% of the world's children live without their biological fathers and that 24.7 million of those kids live in America.
Is it any good?
Unconditional is touching, well-acted, and directed. Christian faith is an underlying theme throughout, but it's not the only theme, and the filmmakers tell the story skillfully enough so that most viewers, believers or not, can reasonably expect to appreciate something here. Ealy and Collins are persuasive performers, and given the material – fatherless kids, a murdered young husband, a grieving widow, a mortally sick young man -- the tear-jerking potential here is high. If there is anything to find fault with, it may be that the movie is said to be based on events in the life of the real Joe Bradford, a black man who has been helping at-risk kids in Nashville for decades. For some reason, the filmmakers felt that the best way into the African-American Bradford's story is by focusing on Sam, a white protagonist, which feels like a less than ideal choice.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether people who are lucky enough to be well-off have an obligation to help those who are not. Why do you think some people have a lot and others have much less?
As a successful writer, Sam has been able to give money to help needy people. Do you think people with less money can also help those in need? What are some ways to help?
What are some advantages and limitations of using films to dramatize real stories? Can movies tell a real-life story in ways that other media, such as books or radio, can't? Where do movies fall short? For example, are the conversations on-screen what was really said? Can you trust that everything you see on-screen really happened? What might filmmakers change to make a story more engaging or dramatic?
- In theaters: September 21, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: March 5, 2013
- Cast: Lynn Collins, Michael Ealy, Diego Klattenhoff, Kwesi Boakye, Cedric Pendleton, Bruce McGill
- Director: Brent McCorkle
- Studio: ARC Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: for some violent content and mature thematic elements
- Last updated: June 24, 2020
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