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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

Matthew Peyton has problems.

Sure, you might not know it from his mansion or his BMW or the automotive parts business he inherited from his grandfather. And that right there, frankly, is one of his problems. Everyone thinks Matthew is stinking rich—the town's own laird of the manor. They don't realize that Peyton Automotive is hemorrhaging cash. As the town turns green with envy, Matthew's books run red with debt. He doesn't quite know why his business is on the verge of bellying up like an overfed goldfish. He's still selling plenty of merchandise. But as his accountant tells him, math was never Matthew's strong suit. So Matthew sighs and tries to soldier on.

Alas, the union is making it very difficult to soldier. When Matthew asks for concessions, the union boss refuses. When Matthew threatens layoffs, the union goes on strike. To make matters even worse, Matthew has the town's annual Christmas festival to worry about. Seems that when Granddad bequeathed the company him, the old man insisted that Peyton Automotive throw a huge birthday party for Jesus every year without fail, pro bono. And if Matthew should fail in throwing said birthday party, well, he forfeits his inheritance.

Everyone loves the festival. More than a few actually depend upon it for their livelihood. But for Matthew, the event is just one more leak in his economic hose. So he tells the town's skeptical city council that—inheritance or not, apparently—he just can't afford to throw another Christmas festival without a little help.

Well. The council—particularly the devilishly named loudmouth Tom Blackhorn—certainly can't accept that. First strikes and layoffs, and now no company-sponsored Christmas festival?! What's next? Will Matthew steal all the Christmas presents in Whoville? No one messes with the town's Christmas festival, especially not the guy who's paid for it all these years. Judging from the cold stares and growling mutters Matthew's greeted with on the city's streets, it's only a matter of time before the townspeople dust off their torches and pitchforks.

And a surly few can't wait to get that witch hunt started. Shortly after Matthew's Beemer gets egged ("This is your first warning!" a note reads), he's cornered in an alley and brutally attacked, the assailants setting his car on fire for good measure. "I guess you get to taste what it's like to sleep in the gutter, my friend," says Matthew's main attacker as he and his fellow thugs flee.

But these evildoers did not anticipate the interference of a young lad named Clarence, who rescues Matthew from tasting said gutter sleep. When Matthew wakes up, he's in a strange bed, being tended to by the boy's gentle, attractive and desperately destitute mother, Sharon.

Yes, Matthew may have problems. But he's about to see what real suffering looks like.

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Positive Elements

"You're in trouble right now," Charlie, a kindly security guard, tells Matthew. "But your heart is right. I can tell."

Admittedly, it takes a while for Matthew's heart to get there. He's not a bad guy, just one so preoccupied with his business that he's forgotten to care much about anyone else. Sharon puts him in his place: "[Things] got worse because people like you forgot about people like us." And whether Matthew was convicted by her exhortation or just moved by Sharon's unheated, unhealthy (but strangely picturesque) apartment, he changes.

When a winter storm barrels into town, Matthew zips over to Sharon's toting scads of blankets for her and her many homeless friends and neighbors. Matthew and his good friend, Nancy, ship them all over to the business owner's conveniently empty warehouse, where everyone's treated to food, shelter and the luxury of hot running water. "I just wanted to help these people," Matthew says. "They helped me."

But the movie also deals with the sometimes discouraging realities of do-gooding. Nancy reminds Matthew that while helping them for one cold night is definitely a good thing, "Tomorrow they'll still be homeless and hungry." Soon, nefarious forces conspire to shut down Matthew's makeshift shelter (which is cruelly characterized by Mr. Blackhorn as an "unlicensed bed and breakfast"). Creative, longer-term solutions are needed, and eventually Matthew brainstorms just such a solution.

Sharon, meanwhile, is a kind caregiver and devoted mother. When Matthew asks why she doesn't work to give son Clarence "something better" in his life, Sharon understandably bristles. "Better than love? Strength? Courage?" She says. "Because that's what I give him every single day."

Nancy is an admirable character, too. She shows remarkable fortitude in dealing with Matthew's bouts of selfishness and in sticking with her increasingly unpopular friend no matter the costs.

Spiritual Content

Believe is an explicitly Christian movie, and the town's annual Christmas festival knows the reason for the season. During the festival, a narrator (who's perhaps a pastor) tells a throng of children the original Christmas story. But as more and more people come to depend on the festival financially, the movie suggests that it's morphed into more of a commercial enterprise than a holy holiday.

So when Matthew discusses the festival with the town's councilmen and women, he sounds a bit like Jesus getting ready to turn over some tables. "I watched as it became a spectacle of commerce rather than a celebration of the birth of Jesus that my grandfather intended!" he bellows.

Matthew also has an "angel" of sorts watching over him—in the form of a 10-year-old boy. There's nothing supernatural about the Clarence, but the film drives home the point that he's indeed a special little lad. "That little kid, he's my angel," Sharon tells Matthew. Clarence (presumably a nod to the angel in It's a Wonderful Life) tells Matthew that he and his mother are the man's "guardian angels."

And what Clarence wants, more than anything, is to play the angel Gabriel in the annual Christmas festival—even telling Matthew that he saw himself flying over the manger from on high. (He sometimes wears an aluminum halo in preparation for the part.) When Matthew tells him that there are no flying angels in the pageant, Clarence says that doesn't matter: He saw it in a dream, so it must be true. "All things are possible for those who believe," he says.

When a building begins burning, Clarence rushes in to save his mother—and plucks her Bible from the fire and stuffs it in his coat. Matthew recalls his grandfather praying every night. Clarence discusses how he's been saying special prayers for Matthew. Later, Matthew—whose faith had definitely been shaken—says he's now come to believe in the "unconditional love" that has been shown to him.

[Spoiler warning] The movie suggests that Clarence's childlike faith is indeed a powerful thing, with his prayers granted like requests of a genie. And while Sharon doesn't believe that God grants wishes so cleanly every time, she sincerely believes in the power of prayer. "[Prayers] are not always answered in the way that you want, but they're always answered," she says. There's also an oft-repeated belief in divine providence. "Well, everything does happen for a reason, Mr. Peyton," Sharon tells him.

Sexual Content

Sharon tells Matthew that Clarence's father took off when he learned Sharon was pregnant, and they apparently weren't married. Matthew and Sharon hold hands. Someone suggestively says his wife is "not so warm."

Violent Content

Matthew gets beaten pretty badly in an alley, leaving his face covered in cuts and bruises. Malfeasants pour gasoline on Matthew's car and set it ablaze, and some of the flaming gas creeps menacingly toward semi-conscious Matthew. We hear and see a couple of minor explosions, but Matthew's car stays in one (admittedly charred) piece.

A fire breaks out at Matthew's factory, a situation leading to much peril. Someone inhales too much smoke, requiring a hospital stay. Another person gets thwacked in the arm with a golf club. A woman is pushed down a set of stairs and falls off a ledge.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear Clarence utter a brief OMG. Besides that, nothing more scandalous than isolated uses of "crap" and "heck."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Evildoers plot and scheme in a seedy bar, where we see people sip beer.

Other Negative Elements

When Matthew, newly rescued from his attackers, asks Sharon if he can use the "facilities," Sharon points him down the hall and hands him a magazine. When he says he doesn't need reading material, she says, "It's not for reading."

Conclusion

The timing of Christmas holds deep symbolic import: Just as Jesus came to rescue a dark, dark world, so the holiday—filled with its candles and blinking lights—fills a dark time of year with light and hope. Believe embraces that sense of the season and amplifies it. The film tells us that it's important to believe, to have hope, even when things look their darkest.

Believe is well-acted and, in spots, genuinely moving. But it may be guilty of trying to accomplish too much. It casts Matthew as both Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey (a tricky thing to do under the best of circumstances), while an unfolding and complicated plot to destroy him feels a bit overheated. And even though Believe pays lip service to the concept that God doesn't always give us exactly what we want (at least not in the way we want it), the way God answers Clarence's prayers feels decidedly like a fairy godmother waving her magic wand.

That said, you can't fault the movie for its ambition or for its intended message. Believe stresses the importance of charity while lauding entrepreneurship and hard work. It celebrates the ties between people and questions the commercialism of Christmas. This is a movie that has a good, strong heart that points viewers in the right direction. And that helps make up for the moments when its packed plot meanders.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Ryan O'Quinn as Matthew Peyton; Shawnee Smith as Dr. Nancy Wells; Danielle Nicolet as Sharon Joseph; Kevin Sizemore as Albert Bagley; David DeLuise as Tom Blackhorn; Issac Ryan Brown as Clarence Joseph; Lance E. Nichols as Mayor Harris; James C. Burns as Bob Alexander; Scott Summitt as Charlie

Director

Billy Dickson ( )

Distributor

Power of 3

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

December 2, 2016

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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