As new romance Redeeming Love opens, first to a Shakespeare quote about gold, then accompanied by twangy music and people hunting for gold in the swampy waters, I was a little unsure just what I had gotten myself into. Period-piece romances are hit or miss for me personally, as there is a fine line between boring and dramatic. The best of the best, like Legends of the Fall, or Atonement, are often entwined with a deep sadness. Redeeming Love dances along this boring/dramatic line dangerously on a tightrope from beginning to end, and beyond some pretty visuals and solid acting performances, there is not a whole lot here to recommend that feels new or exciting.
Based on the bestselling novel by Francine Rivers, Redeeming Love is set during the California Gold Rush of 1850. If there is one film this owes its existence to, I think Titanic is a safe bet. Michael (Tom Lewis) is practically a stand-in for Jack Dawson, a quiet farmer who is immediately smitten by merely looking at the alluring, gorgeous prostitute who goes by the name Angel (Abigail Cowen.) “I have to meet her!” he exclaims with a doe-eyed look in his eyes that seems to be screaming ‘love at first sight.’ This being a love story, their two lives become intertwined. A domineering woman who goes by The Duchess (Famke Janssen) tries to control Angel. She actually holds lotteries to select lucky winners for a night alone with Angel. Michael’s involvement seems to ruffle a lot of feathers—how can he be the one to take Angel’s hand in marriage? Nina Dobrev appears in flashbacks that flesh out Angel’s character to the best of the movie’s abilities, even when her present-day iteration seems disconnected. Toss in Erin Dane playing a villainous Duke, and the groundwork is laid for what should at least be an entertaining time-passer.
Director D.J. Caruso was a very strange choice for the film, with his expertise mainly lying in action (XXX3, I Am Number Four) and surprisingly good Shia LaBeouf thrillers (Disturbia, Eagle Eye). Pegging him as the right choice to helm a western-leaning romantic drama wouldn’t exactly be my first guess. However, I think he does a perfectly serviceable job in transforming South Africa into a bustling California town during the Gold Rush. The real problem here is the source material, character chemistry, and frequently unpleasant subject matter.
Clocking in at over two hours in length, Redeeming Love drags its feet on more than one occasion, simply postponing the inevitable. I had to stop myself from nodding off during some of the slower sequences. Religious overtones (this is based on the biblical book of Hosea) fail to boost up characters that are undoubtedly more complex on the page than on the screen. A stuffy, disjointed romance with a predictable love story that is mostly a snooze, Redeeming Love may please fans of the source material, or the less-demanding consumer of romantic fluff. For this viewer, it fails to deliver anything worthwhile.
Redeeming Love calls for one’s redemption when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, January 21st.