He will never break his promise
Though the stars should break faith with the sky…
Last night, my family and I saw the new biopic about the life of my favorite songwriter ever, Rich Mullins. Entitled “Ragamuffin”, it follows the life of Mullins from his pre-teen years through his untimely death (Rich, why couldn’t you have worn a d*** seatbelt?) in September, 1997.
I’m going to get the bad out of the way. If you’re hoping this movie “solves” all the problems of the so-called “Christian movie industry”, it does not. It is too long by at least a half-hour, we never feel like the main character really is Mullins until almost a half-hour into the film, and it seems preachier than it needs to be, often using way too much dialog to communicate messages that filmmakers should be able to make with far less talking and far more skillful directing, acting and editing. Anachronisms abound for those who look for them (certain musical equipment and instruments appear years and years before they actually were available), the lighting seems to be an afterthought, and in many cases (as I implied earlier) paragraphs of dialog abound where lines would do.
If you think this movie is just as bad as so many Christian films (virtually all that I have seen in fact) are, you’d also be wrong. Refreshingly, this film does not sanitize the smoking, drinking, cussing (okay, maybe it eases up on the cussing, I’m okay with that), broken character that Rich apparently was. That, I found refreshing. And when Michael Koch finally “finds” the main character (or should I say, when we finally believe in him and the director finally sets the character free), he carries it well, warts (and there are many) and all. I was impressed with how Koch sings and plays the part so well (using his own voice by the way), too, right down to the occasional sloppy piano and idiosyncratic vocal stylings. The stress of growing up with such a broken father-son relationship plays a major role, as it should, and explains much of what we need to know about the character (reminded me of Johnny Cash, actually).
I was fortunate enough to meet Mullins during his too-short life, about 7 years before his death. By “meet”, I don’t mean shake hands after a concert, but in fact along with a small group of folks got to spend hours and hours with him talking and really getting to know each other. He was, by far, the most interesting person I have ever met. So… I am a little biased in saying that beyond the flaws in this film (again, typical of so many Christian movies, and of so much Christian music for that matter), is the story of a man who was worth knowing and knowing about, not in spite of, but partly because of his flaws. I can probably count on one hand the number of Christian songwriters who come close to Mullins’ talent and transparency (even if I’m missing a finger or two), and I’m thrilled that this film might introduce some new people to his work. Even more, maybe more people will come to grips with the fact that Jesus not only doesn’t mind their brokenness, but loves them right in the middle of it all.
That would thrill Rich the most.