Redeeming Love, 2022.
Directed by D.J. Caruso.
Starring Abigail Cowen, Tom Lewis, Logan Marshall-Green, Eric Dane, Wu Ke-Xi, Livi Birch, Brandon Auret, Jamie Lee O’Donnell, Tanya van Graan, and Famke Janssen.
Sold into prostitution as a child, Angel knows nothing but betrayal. Can her heart ever be mended? Based upon the novel by Francine Rivers.
Who would have ever thought that D.J. Caruso (responsible for a couple of the XxX movies and some other generic action fare) would make a poor choice for a film about finding love in the aftermath of forced prostitution? In his defense, Redeeming Love is written alongside Francine Rivers (the book’s scribe), but everyone involved with this project deserves to be shamed for minimizing the damages and trauma of sexual servitude to make way for sappy, sentimental romance that’s uncomfortable, misguided, and emotionally manipulative. Despite already being a novel, there’s even a strict embargo in place prohibiting me from discussing plot specifics, which I’m sure has more to do with the general ickiness of the story being told rather than secrecy.
What can be said is that Abigail Cowen (between this and 2019’s I Still Believe, she’s becoming a go-to star for faith-based romance) plays Angel, sold into prostitution as a child and now working inside a 19th-century brothel where she is repaid with shelter, food, and of course, money, although she doesn’t have much control over spending it. Periodically, there are also flashbacks depicting how Angel ended up in the situation and numb to life, rolling with whatever sordid activities the commoners want in exchange for their cash while drinking herself into a stupor and talking back against the duchess (Famke Janssen, in what is oddly listed as a special appearance) scolding her behavior. To Abigail Cowen’s credit, the performance somewhat works when it’s focused on her blank facial expressions, intoxicated mood swings, and all-around apathy.
Naturally, Angel remains as such even when the perfectly handsome farmer Michael (a flat Tom Lewis) notices her in town and creepily falls in love at first sight. And that’s not to knock the concept of love at first sight, but any rational and compassionate human being would probably move slower and not instantly bring up love to someone in Angel’s horrific situation (again, she has been a sex slave for the majority of her life; it’s not something she chose, so there is no sex work positivity spin on this). It’s love bombing when someone is at their most vulnerable, which is quite morally repulsive but here it is portrayed as wholesome and cute with all of the usual savior clichés. That’s also without acknowledging that for anyone to receive pleasurable time with Angel, they have to win daily town raffles, which Michael bypasses by spending double the money, something you think other people would have tried by now. Brace yourself; the script is similarly contrived every step of the way.
The one kind thing I will say about Redeeming Love is that the script does realize Michael has to give Abigail agency and allow her to make decisions by herself. However, it also goes about this dynamic afraid to give his character any acknowledged flaws (yes, everything he is doing is for creepy reasons that don’t really build up their connection in a meaningful or believable way, but the script thinks it’s the right thing to do and puts a happy spin on it).
This is an issue throughout Redeeming Love, which packs in several subplots involving prostitution owners, the other women, Michael’s brother (at one point the story becomes The Power of the Dog for dummies, with Logan Marshall-Green turning in awful work, most notably in his big crying scene which elicited laughter more than anything), discussions of starting a family, and rediscovering faith in God, all with Angel searching for her place in the world. On that note, I don’t expect a story that takes place in the 1800s to function progressively necessarily, but there are elements to the ending that should actively make viewers angry. Neither of these characters are seriously explored, so the sensitive material comes across as ill-advised and mishandled (not to mention the camera work takes on a male gaze lens whether Angel is making love for business or pleasure, going to hilarious extremes blocking nudity of everyone involved while trying to be explicit). Everything about Redeeming Love is wrongheaded.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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