I preface my opinion of a lot of indie films with the disclaimer, "I imagine this is not the film that this director has always wanted to make"—meaning, of course, that the film is essentially a portfolio piece, or a journeyman work for hire that's paying some much needed dues for later benefit.
I'm happy to report in this case that that HEAVEN'S RAIN is, in all probability, exactly the film that co-writer, co-producer, and costar Brooks Douglass has always wanted to make. It may, in fact, be the only film he has ever wanted to make—because it's his story.
In 1979, Brooks and Leslie Douglass survived the attempted murder of their entire family—and then, while still teenagers, lived through the hell of multiple trials, retrials, and resentencing of the killers, all the while mourning the tragic loss of their parents. Douglass himself studied law and became a state senator, sponsoring victims' rights legislation that became law on the eve of the execution of one of the killers.
HEAVEN'S RAIN, now in a limited indie release with gradual rollout across the country, is the story of a roughly 48-hour period in which Douglass' political career reaches its apex while his private life crumbles because of his inability to let go of that Oklahoma farmhouse tragedy. As the narrative nears its climax—the aforementioned execution—Douglass manages to arrange an in-prison physical confrontation with the other killer, the one who actually did the shooting and who has, nonetheless, managed to avoid the death penalty.
Complicating matters is the fact that Douglass' parents, Richard and Marilyn, were gentle missionaries trapped in a stateside pastorate by a seemingly unthinking missions board. Complicating the movie itself is the fact that Douglass actually plays his father Richard.
Yes, you read that right.
And if you missed that, go back and re-read it.
I don't think there could possibly be a film that has ever been more a work of passion. In any other context, this might feel like sensationalistic stunt-casting; but Douglass' performance is so subtle and emotionally restrained that the subject matter of the film is drawn right into the foreground as you're watching: How on Earth could Douglass have possibly gotten past his parents' brutal murder and not only led the life he has, but come to a point where he could write, produce, and star in a film that would so require him to disappear into the life and death of his father... without it destroying him emotionally?
Offering a Christ-Centered View
And the answer to that question lies in what transpires in that prison-cell meeting with his would-be killer.
Last year, I reviewed two films about the genocide in Rwanda. One, MY NEIGHBOR, MY KILLER, highlighted the insanity of asking victims to live peaceably alongside those who murdered their families; it offered a secularly pessimistic view. The other, AS WE FORGIVE, instead chose to highlight how such insanity has, in the real world, actually been overcome—not as a rule, but in cases which simply cannot be denied; it, naturally, offered a hopeful, Christ-centered view.
Remarkable When Views Collide
This film shows, in non-theoretical cinematic narrative form, how those two views collide. I can only say that the effect is remarkable, if perhaps anticlimactic—in the same way that Christ's victory on the cross was surely a letdown for the faithful who looked on. God’s ways are not our own, and fallen human desires are rarely satisfied by a divine notion of justice.
And I’m 100% sold on Douglass' decisions, all along the way, to keep this story personal and out of the hands of studios and polemicists. Clearly a determined man with a vision, a mover and shaker who knows how to forge strong alliances with the influential, Douglass has seen his story turn into a flawed masterpiece, one that should draw tremendous business by word of mouth. In its imperfection, it betrays both its indie spirit and the genius of all vital storytelling: real heart, and real passion. Obviously, Douglass didn't work with co-writer and director Paul Brown because of the length of the latter's resume, but because he knew he could trust him—a great, great choice.
A Brooks and Leslie, Mike Vogel and Taryn Manning should be racking up a passel of awards for their performances here. I can't help but imagine that these roles, performed in the presence of those whose story they tell, will be life-shapers. What a gift.
Seeing films like this is what makes reviewing worthwhile.
(Though the film is already in the middle of a gradual rollout, the film’s producers are open to bringing it to your community upon request. You can email Zach Coffey, the production's Regional Community Relations Coordinator, or visit the Official Site for more info.)
HEAVEN'S RAIN is rated R for some disturbing violent content. I should think so. Still, I wouldn't hesitate to watch this film with my family, even kids as young as seven or eight, depending on how sensitive they are. This could really be a positive formative experience... for just about anyone.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional DVD of HEAVEN'S RAIN.