Paul’s Promise 2022 Movie Review
The religious movie Paul’s Promise—made by Damascus Road Productions, Uptone Pictures, and SaltShaker Media—will be released by Integrity Releasing on October 21 to a small number of USA theaters—roughly 200+ markets. Directed by Matthew Reithmayr (Desolate Beauty) and written for the screen by Vitya Stevens (Backseat Rendezvous), the film stars Linda Purl, Nancy Stafford, Ryan O’Quinn, Shari Rigby, Josef Cannon, and Dean Cain. It’s rated PG for thematic material—including racism and domestic violence, language, some violence, and smoking.
Paul’s Promise (96 minutes) is the inspiring true story of Paul Holderfield—a former racist firefighter turned pastor who formed one of the first integrated churches in the American South—portrayed in the film by Ryan O’Quinn (Secret Agent Dingledorf and His Trusty Dog Splat).
The movie takes place in 1967 in North Little Rock, Arkansas, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, although shot in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Linda Purl (General Hospital; The Office), who portrays Paul’s mother, Minnie, advises him to change his habits, attend church, and be open to the notion of becoming a preacher after finding that she has cancer. However, Minnie’s wish won’t come true overnight. Paul had a challenging upbringing due to his alcoholic, violent, and bigot father, and as an adult, Paul is beginning to resemble him more and more every day. If he wants to change before his mother’s approaching death, he must quit being destructive and put his faith in God.
Every day brings a discovery—we all know that historical dramas frequently exaggerate or incorrectly interpret historical facts for dramatic entertainment—for me—discovering the truth about Paul Holderfield after seeing a screener for Paul’s Promise. The film’s main plot maintains the fundamental narrative of a former racist firefighter embracing God and later becoming a preacher. The filmmakers attempted to subvert four distinct storylines: the passing of Paul’s mother; Paul’s coping with his tragic childhood; Paul befriending a black friend from his youth; Paul putting his faith in God; and a minor subplot about a string of arson fires in black neighborhoods that were slightly touched upon and ended without a satisfactory conclusion.
I didn’t think the acting was consistently strong, especially Ryan O’Quinn’s depiction of Paul Holderfield, which was eerily similar to Will Ferrell’s portrayal of Ricky Bobby in the comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby—down to the fake sideburns. I won’t even mention the two “weeping” scenes with O’Quinn since they were so humiliating to watch. Shouldn’t tears flow when you cry? It’s just a thought.
The dialogue was a tad too aggressively preachy, even for a Christian film, to the point that exchanges felt forced, which would turn off non-believers or the average moviegoer, for that matter. I also had a couple of problems with the editing and direction. There’s a moment in the beginning when Paul’s mother, Minnie, is driving along a road and has a “spell” that strangely transitions into a short flashback of Paul’s childhood—my initial reaction was that Minnie had a miraculous vision because that’s how it played out on screen, but it was actually Paul’s flashback and had nothing to do with Minnie; strange editing.
The flashbacks with Paul’s younger parents (played by Zacciah Hanson and Michelle Campbell) were challenging to watch, to put it mildly. In my opinion, however, the dialogue, wooden acting, and blatantly made-up whig were more to blame than the physical altercations between them. The flow was awkward and reminded me of a horrible off-Broadway play. “Off-Broadway” means a theater built above a bowling alley; yes, the sequences were absurd.
I am a staunch advocate of independent films—especially ones in the religious genre—that are underappreciated by Hollywood and the general public. Despite all of my criticisms, Paul’s Promise is still a good-hearted movie since it does contain some essential teachings about letting go of the past, fighting injustice, seeking forgiveness, and choosing to serve God.