No one would ever mistake "Mac" McDonald for a happy man.
This Memphis police officer is racist, hot-tempered and critical of pretty much everyone around him—even his wife, Sara, and son, Blake. Mac has always blamed himself for the death of his other son, Tyler, when the boy was only 5. It was a tragedy triggered by a drug deal gone wrong and a high-speed getaway 17 years ago, yet Mac knows it was he who told Tyler to keep trying to ride his new bike. He expresses his anger and grief through bigotry and sarcasm. And he's spent far more than his fair share of time punishing Blake emotionally. Sara's trying to cope by seeking counseling for the family. Blake responds by flunking out of school and hanging out with an unsavory crowd.
Enter Sam Wright, an African-American "sergeant pastor" who lands the police force promotion that Mac wanted. Their chief partners them, saying Mac has gone "lone wolf" long enough. The two instantly don't hit it off.
Though he's a fine policeman, Sam feels his true calling is to be a pastor. That doesn't pay the bills, though, as he and his wife, Debra, struggle to keep their tiny church afloat. So Sam sits in a patrol car all day with Mac, struggling to love the man. Mac refuses to cooperate. And if Pastor Sam can't love his enemies, maybe he's not cut out for the clergy after all.
Forget that, Mac would scoff if he knew what Sam was thinking. Mac's wondering if he's cut out for anything. And then things go from bad to worse to life-and-death.
Sam wrestles with how to respond to Mac's not-quite-hidden racism. Though Sam is irritated, hurt and repulsed by Mac's actions and attitudes, he presses on, trying to treat his partner fairly. And he continues to reach out to him.
Sam's wife is a constant encouragement to him, supporting him in what he's doing presently, and caring about his dreams and aspirations. Sara, meanwhile, seeks counseling to save her family, and she pleads with Blake and Mac to go with her. Blake eventually does. And despite his frustration and hurt, an insightful Christian counselor helps him see the importance of actively trying to build a better relationship with his wounding—and wounded—father. Blake and Mac painstakingly takes steps toward understanding and loving each other. Mac gains a better understanding of his own injured heart through painful introspection.
Sam emphasizes to Mac the value and importance of healthy father-son relationships, using his own difficult bond with his father to help Mac understand. He says that no matter what a boy might say, he always needs his dad.
Many more positives are spiritual in nature. Read on.
Sam's grandfather, George, serves as the story's sage, offering wise advice and pushing Sam in all the right directions. Give grace, the old man says. Grace, he says, has quite literally changed history. It has forged friendships, released people from emotional and physical bondage, and changed countless lives for the better.
It's a spiritual principle he illustrates by telling the story of recently freed slaves (in 1884) pledging to forgive their masters. This movie illustrates it by showing us what happens when we go beyond our human inclination to love only those who love us back. Sam has to do that with Mac. Mac has to do it with the man who killed his son. Blake has to do it with his dad.
It's not easy. Mac wonders what kind of God would allow his son to die—and then allow yet another tragedy in their family. But desperate for answers, Mac finally allows Sam to minister to him. Sam can't answer a thing, and admits as much without hesitation. But he assures his new friend of God's love and comfort. And, as it turns out, he can even offer something precious and unexpected—something very personal—to Mac and his struggling family. Sam also sees how God is using Mac to hone his own thoughts and attitudes.
Sam's questions about spiritual calling are gradually answered as God reveals to him his own heart and how to reach Mac's. His church congregation grows in part because of the public expression of grace he extends to his partner and friend. Then, to add blessing to beauty, Tyler's murderer find the McDonalds at church one Sunday and seeks their forgiveness for what he's done. He tells the congregation that he's become a Christian and is now serving the Lord as a missionary in Kenya.
Characters pray repeatedly before meals and for restored relationships, guidance and wisdom. They pray for Blake's healing when he's hurt. Sam and Mac pray together in an emotional reconciliation scene. It's implied that a man gives his heart to Christ. Church services are shown and spiritual songs are sung. Two of Sam's sermons get some screen time. The film closes with Ephesians 2:8 displayed across the screen.
Offscreen, a young boy is hit and killed by a car. We hear the impact.
A bloodied woman is shown screaming for help. She says that her man hurt her baby. And the child is seen wrapped in a blood-spattered blanket. The suspect in the case ends up putting a gun to Mac's head. He says he'll take Mac to hell with him if Sam shoots. After Sam talks the suicidal thug down, Mac turns the tables and threatens the suspect just as ferociously.
Mac shoots a robbery suspect (in nearly complete darkness). That man is then shown with blood smeared on his chest while on a hospital gurney.
Angry and hurt beyond words, Sara slaps Mac. Mac jokes that Sam should just kill him and put them both out of their misery.
Crude or Profane Language
The n-word is cut short at the first syllable. Blake blurts out "freakin'."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Mac finds Blake's marijuana pipe. Mac goes to a pub for alcohol and later drinks from a flask while sitting in a chapel. A drug deal is shown.
Other Negative Elements
Mac denigrates African-Americans and Hispanics, making remarks, for instance, about how the neighborhood used to be a great place to live. A dotty elderly woman says a few things that reveal her prejudice, too.
Apart from being a play on the phrase race card, just what exactly is the grace card referenced in this film's title? It's a promise that the Wrights' ancestor Wendell, a slave, made to a loving master who set him free. The then 8-year-old boy wrote to the man on a piece of parchment, "I promise to pray for you every day, ask for your forgiveness, grant you the same, and be your friend always."
It's also the promise that Sam and his African-American congregation—which eventually includes the very white McDonalds and others—end up making to one another. Space Cowboys writer Howard Klausner, the film's executive producer and screenwriter, told CBN News, "This is the story of a black cop and white cop and it is not all happy. I think Christians have been silent on race because just like grace, it is tough stuff. It's hard. It's uncomfortable."
Director David G. Evans, a Memphis optometrist, told the Christian Telegraph, "The point is to grab people by the heart." And it did just that for me. I watched The Grace Card as I was harboring deep resentment toward a man who killed a family friend in a tragic—public—shooting. As I struggled with how to work through my anger, God quietly used this film as a nudge to show me what the consequences are when we choose rage over forgiveness.
"Justice won't change our hearts," a character wisely explains. Only grace and love can do that. And how would the world change if we all extended the same grace shown in The Grace Card? To those who hurt us. To those we don't understand. To those we don't look like.
The answer is profoundly.
The Grace Card is a small-budget film spearheaded by Memphis' Calvary Church. It's a project inspired by and modeled after the films already released by Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia (Fireproof, Facing the Giants). So you could say it's an amateur project that won't live up to its Hollywood peers. But that won't stop it from touching and inspiring more hearts than just mine. As its website states, "Every day, we have the opportunity to rebuild relationships and heal deep wounds by extending and receiving God's grace. Never underestimate the power of God's love."