Unconditional is “based on” the story of Joe Bradford, known as “Papa Joe” to the kids he works with. Joe grew up in poverty and went through personal struggles as a young man. Later on, financial difficulties bring a changed Bradford and his wife, Denise, to a low-income neighborhood in Nashville, Tenn. The organization Elijah’s Heart comes into being as they begin to see and address the needs of the children around them.
The main character of the movie is Sam, a young woman whose beloved husband has been murdered. His killer has never been found. She is angry and depressed, ready to give up. Through a convergence of events, she runs into Joe, her childhood friend. He invites her into his life and work; the love she receives from Joe, Denise, and the children helps her move back into the world.
Actress Lynn Collins gives a decent performance as Sam, but it’s Michael Ealy’s charming portrayal of Papa Joe that makes the movie. It is easy to believe that children who need love would be drawn to this person.
Fans of inspirational films will find this one satisfying and emotionally affecting. The positive message and some lovely scenes add up to one of the higher quality faith-based films I’ve seen. The movie does not avoid some of the pitfalls Christian filmmakers are susceptible to: contrived story elements, a tendency toward melodrama, and a desire to put the message into words rather than letting the story tell it. But the movie’s hopeful beauty, as well as Joe’s real-life story, help negate the effects of those pitfalls.
I would be interested in seeing a biopic of Joe Bradford. This movie, while it includes some of Joe’s real-life experiences, focuses more on the fictional character of Sam. That often left me wondering what was real and what was fictional. The reason for inventing this character seems to be to make the movie more about what God can do rather than what Joe did. But I’d like to see more about the way that God worked in Joe’s life and those he brought to Joe and Denise, because that’s the real story here. Available on disc now. (Arc Entertainment)