Redeeming Love is the most sexually-charged faith-based film I've ever seen. And, frankly, one of the most misguided. Based on a 1991 novel by Francine Rivers that was inspired by the Bible's book of Hosea, the movie is full of weird messages, not the least of which is that it only takes the love of a good, pure man to make a girl change her whoring ways. Enlightened it is not. In fact, the whole thing is so relentlessly old-fashioned that it's borderline comical at times.
The story is set in 1850. Michael (Tom Lewis) is a simple farmer, a man of unwavering faith in God. While in town one day, he gets a glimpse of Angel (Abigail Cowen), the most desirable prostitute at a brothel run by the Duchess (Famke Janssen). Immediately smitten, he decides right then and there that he's going to marry her. Angel is so popular that there's literally a waiting list to sleep with her. Michael pays Duchess double the rate to jump ahead in line. Then, to Angel's surprise, he only wants to sit and talk. You can see the first problem with the movie right here. Michael doesn't actually know Angel. He only wants to marry her because she's beautiful, so in his own way, he's objectifying her just as much as her johns do.
Angel is understandably mistrustful of men. Flashbacks reveal how she was sexually abused by an acquaintance of her late mother, presumably setting her on the path to her current occupation. She rejects Michael's offer of marriage -- until Duke (Eric Dane), a dark figure from her past, returns, that is. Then she figures marrying Michael will get her out of a bad situation. From there, Redeeming Love tracks how she escapes Duchess but struggles to leave prostitution behind, despite her Good and Faithful Husband trying to give her a better life. Logan Marshall-Green also stars as Michael's widower brother-in-law who shows up out of the blue one day. You can probably guess how that works out.
Redeeming Love is ostensibly about how being treated with compassion changes Angel's life. Oddly, though, the character has very little agency in the movie. Things happen to her, as opposed to having her make things happen for herself. Worse, the story makes it clear that any positive event in her life is given to her by Michael. When they finally have sex, for instance, it's implied that she experiences orgasm for the first time. Rather than coming away with the impression that Angel's life is changed by being introduced to God's love, the film suggests that, by being devout in his faith, Michael is blessed by the Lord with the beautiful and sexually-gratifying wife he desires.
Aside from its antiquated ideas, the movie runs down a checklist of elements it knows will make audiences sit up and take notice. A horrific forced abortion occurs in flashback, and there's a message about child sex trafficking tacked on to the finale. That last one is especially tasteless. If you're going to include a topic like that, you have a responsibility to make it more than just a plot point. Introducing a child in peril, only to toss her aside in order to get back to how lucky Michael is to have his dream woman, is nothing short of myopic.
Having said all this, I will concede that Redeeming Love did hold my attention, even with an overlong running time of 134 minutes. So much bizarre, melodramatic stuff happens that I was never bored. Abigail Cowan (best known for Netflix's series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) is good in her oddly-written role. She does manage to convince us that Angel is a victim of severe trauma that has affected her profoundly. Tom Lewis is saddled with a one-dimensional role, forcing him to play a guy who's bland in his moral perfection. Nevertheless, he's likeable enough, and one can detect some chemistry with his co-star. Production design that effectively recreates the era is another plus.
It's in the storytelling that Redeeming Love falters. The movie wants to be a faith-based tale with a hint of eroticism, but at the same time, it wants that eroticism to be wholesome, which is contradictory. If the point was to show that God's love is healing – and I assume it was – the focus should have been on Angel's development of faith. Instead, the focus is on how Michael “saves” her with his own faith. This backward way of handling the material left a sour taste in my mouth. Being inspirational isn't easy when the most important character is treated as a whore who's lucky to have a good man to rescue her.
out of four
Redeeming Love is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual content, partial nudity, and strong violent content. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.