Movie Review – I Can Only Imagine

I’ve mentioned this movie before, but here’s my more complete analysis of it. Of course, I’m not a script writer or an expert on movies, so this review is more from the fan side of things than my book reviews might be.

The Story. One reason I like this movie is that it’s a true story. In short it’s really the story about the song “I Can Only Imagine,” written by Bart Millard, lead singer for the band MercyMe. But in the opening, the Bart character says he spent only ten minutes or so writing the lyrics. The Amy Grant character says, No, it actually took you a life time.

From that point the story centers on the elements in Bart’s life that brought him to the place that he wrote the song and eventually how the song came to a place of widespread recognition.

I’ve heard interviews with the real Bart Millard and he said more than once that he felt the movie fairly and accurately portrayed the events, and the actors got him right.

Strengths. I thought the acting was first rate in this movie. Each of the characters seemed truly believable. I understood their motives, felt for them, pulled for them. It was easy to forget that this was not a documentary or that the main character wasn’t playing himself. In fact, the friend I saw the movie with, asked that very question. The role of Bart Millard was J. Michael Finley’s movie debut, and I think he was outstanding.

The only character that threw me was the one played by Trace Adkins, the country singer. He has such a distinct look and persona that I had a hard time remembering he wasn’t playing himself. He was good, don’t get me wrong. Very believable. But he looked so much like Trace Adkins! And sounded so much like Trace Adkins! Sometimes I would forget.

The others in the cast were good, but the other winner was Dennis Quaid who played Bart’s father. He was exactly right at every turn. Such a good performance.

The other great strength of the movie was how the script writers, director, and actors played the elements of change. When an actor has portrayed someone who is angry and mean-spirited and violent, it’s no easy thing to show them as something else in the last act of the film and maintain the aura of believability.

These professionals did an admirable job, I thought, in showing the change in the characters who changed. They didn’t just snap their fingers and all things became new. As much as possible within the scope of the movie, I thought they showed the characters’ struggle to the place where they ended up.

Of course the theme of the film was a major strength. No one can miss what the movie has to say to all of us, and yet it does not preach the message. It unfolds before our eyes through the lives of the characters.

What to be aware of. First, this story involves abuse. It’s not always easy, and it may hit some nerves. Young children aren’t the intended audience.

Second, the band MercyMe plays in a number of Christian venues, and their songs are largely worship songs. Someone unfamiliar with praise music and the audience response to such might be a little uncomfortable. I don’t know.

Third, this story took place in Oklahoma for the most part and as a result the audiences were . . . not particularly racially diverse. Here in SoCal where streets and grocery stores and movie theaters and classrooms and church and workplaces are diverse, such a uniformity of race seemed a little startling. But maybe no one else will think that.

Recommendation. I hardly need to say it, I think. I suspect it’s pretty clear from the above that I think this is a great movie, one I highly recommend to anyone 14 and older. I’ve tried not to give any spoilers, because I think a movie is most powerful when you don’t know everything about it before you see it.

But actually, I did know quite a bit about Bart Millard’s life from the interviews I heard, and I still loved the movie. I’ve read some reviews that say this is one of the best faith-based movies ever. Well, I think it holds its own against other movies, whether faith-based or not.

I understand it had a much smaller budget than some of the other movies that came out that same weekend, and it didn’t have nearly as many theaters where it debuted, but it still came in third two weeks in a row, and then only fell one place, to fourth. People have reported packed theaters, but better is the report that some have come to Christ because of this story.

Now that makes the movie worth seeing, for sure.

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