Answering the Question, by Bob Connally

24 Oct

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As I write this, it is two years to the day since four students were murdered by a classmate at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington. 15 years earlier, I was a junior at that school, looking around the campus on the morning of April 21, 1999. It was the day after the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. School shootings were not as commonplace as they would become but I still remember feeling that if someone really wanted to commit such a horrific act on our campus, there would be little to stop them. Tragically, 15 years later that would turn out to be true.

As has so often been the case with mass killings, the names of the killers are the ones that are remembered. It’s their stories that are told and examined and anyone who remembers that horrible day at Columbine High School remembers the names Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. What we see with I’m Not Ashamed however is the story of one of the victims and the impact she had in her all too short life. It’s a story that, like that of so many other victims, deserves to be told.

Structurally, I’m Not Ashamed is a pretty straightforward year-in-the-life narrative, following Rachel Scott (Masey McLain of the upcoming Christine) through her senior year of high school. The film follows Rachel’s journey as a lapsed Christian who gives her life to Christ over the summer and returns to school wanting to use her faith to help her classmates and others in the community. Through the year she pursues a boy and a role in the school play, all while struggling to remain close to God and do the right thing. Even when we see her at parties where her friends are drinking and smoking, she really doesn’t participate, yet her mother and step-father treat her as though she has. The film leads to that fateful day in April when she is asked about her Christian beliefs while staring down the barrel of a gun.

Written by four first-time screenwriters and directed by Brian Baugh (To Save a Life), I’m Not Ashamed is a better, slightly more nuanced film than I would have expected. What it does well is show Rachel’s faith and the ups and downs she has with it in a way that feels very honest, especially for someone her age. The dialogue sounds surprisingly true for the most part. There are scenes that ring a bit false- particularly one confrontation she has with her adopted “big brother” Nathan (Ben Davies, War Room) – but there was nothing in the movie that made me cringe, which if I’m honest, was a pleasant surprise.

McLain does very well as Rachel, carrying the film on her shoulders and bringing us in to Rachel’s state of mind. The rest of the cast does fine work as well, but McLain is in almost every scene and shows she could have a bright future as an actress.

Baugh’s direction is pretty simple, not bringing many stylistic touches to it, but the film is solidly made. The biggest misstep the movie makes is including scenes of Eric Harris (David Errigo, Jr.) and Dylan Klebold (Cory Chapman, Halt and Catch Fire) that are separate from scenes involving Rachel. We already know who they are and what they will eventually do and the film would have been better served to only show them on the periphery, their paths occasionally crossing with Rachel in class or in the lunchroom. The scenes which show them playing video games and hatching their plan for a shooting spree just feel out of place and overdone. The idea of I’m Not Ashamed is to tell Rachel Scott’s story, not to recap the story of the demented classmates who killed her and twelve others, so I’m really not sure why those scenes were included.

I’m Not Ashamed is a thoughtful and worthwhile look at the life of a girl who made a big impact during her 17 years on earth and whose story has made an even bigger impact in the years since. Christian film still has a long way to go, but I’m Not Ashamed feels like a small step in the right direction.

One Response to “Answering the Question, by Bob Connally”

  1. Jonathan Swirsky November 10, 2016 at 11:23 am #

    Great review. I too was surprised at how well the movie portrayed the struggle between faith and life.

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