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Peace River movie

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Emily Clark

Movie Review

Cowboys love big skies and open ranges. They work hard. They are men of their word. They are loyal to their friends and family, treat everyone with respect—especially their women—are courageous and fear God and no man.

At least according to Casey’s grandfather, Bo Shane. That’s why, when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, young Casey responds, “A cowboy, just like you, Pop.”

Bo is proud but reminds him, “Don’t ever forget what’s important in life: friendship with God, family, friends, meaningful work and one good horse.”

For years, Casey follows that mantra. At times, it gets him into trouble—such as when he defends Maria (whom he would eventually fall in love with) from school bullies by beating them up. At other times, it leads him to brave choices—like joining the Army straight out of high school instead of accepting a college scholarship.

But Casey isn’t perfect. He may have been raised with high moral standards and taught to trust God in all things, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t liable to make mistakes at times.

Because shortly after asking Maria to wait for him while he serves in the military, he gets into an argument with her over petty differences. Then, instead of doing the right thing and apologizing for his behavior, he chooses to go out drinking with his buddies (despite being underage). He gets drunk, which leads to him cheating on Maria by sleeping with another young woman.

Now, at this point, Casey knows he’s in the wrong. But since his heart isn’t right with God, he keeps making bad decisions.

He lies to Maria. And when she calls him out for it, he makes it out like it’s her fault.

Well, you can imagine how that goes over.

So Casey enters military service without the love of his life. He makes friends there and shares his faith with them, even leading them to faith of their own.

But right when it seems that Casey might be making a turn for the better, tragedy strikes. And instead of seeking God, he finds other forms of consolation.

The harder life gets, the more Casey pulls away from God—and the further he pushes those away who might be able to help him.

Casey forgets those important things his grandfather taught him about. And he needs God to intervene in a big way to save him.

Positive Elements

Bo is the only father Casey has ever known since his own dad (Bo’s son) died when he was very young. Bo grieves over his son’s loss, but he also sees Casey as a second chance at fatherhood, which he does well. He admonishes gently, reinforces good moral behavior and teaches his grandson important life lessons from an early age.

When Casey states his desire to join the Army, Bo is hesitant, stating that their family has served enough for several families. However, he supports Casey’s decision. Elsewhere, Bo teaches his grandson that it’s wrong to respond to every verbal provocation.

Casey’s Army buddies are frank about their racial differences in a refreshing way. They make some jokes to each other and are respectful of their different backgrounds, acknowledging the fact that despite their differences, they all made the brave choice to join the military.

When two men debate whether they are serving the same government that oppressed their peoples (Black and Native American), one states that you can’t change the past, but you can affect the future. We hear about one man who joined the military to help out his single mom and to provide a better future for his younger brother.

Maria’s friends and family (and even Casey’s friends and family) protect her after Casey’s infidelity. They urge him to apologize for his actions and defend her decision to keep her distance.

Spiritual Elements

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following section.]

Bo leads his family with a strong faith in God. He prays for them throughout the film, asking for guidance and protection. He implores Casey to trust God in all things. And he continuously thanks God for his many blessings.

As a young boy, Casey asks the hard question of why God let his father die if he was a good man. Bo tells him that some things are hard to understand or explain but tells Casey to trust God and believe that there’s a heaven where they all will be together again someday.

Bo tells Casey that war is like riding into the gates of hell. If Casey wants to be a soldier, Bo says, he will need to take God with him. He then gives Casey the same Bible he had given to Casey’s dad before he went off to basic training.

Before riding into battle, Casey prays with his platoon, asking God to “have mercy on every soul” they send to Him. They fight against the Taliban, but they also fight alongside Muslim men who are against the Taliban’s religious extremism. Casey says that God represents freedom and that without it, we can’t have love. And he’s willing to risk his life despite religious differences to preserve that freedom, which is a basic human right. And one of the American soldiers’ Muslim allies prays to Allah for their survival.

A pastor preaches about the “mystery of evil,” how good and evil coexist to bring about the glory of God.

Casey says there’s a “magical” bond between a man and his horse.

Maria eventually forgives Casey, but this is because of the change God made in her heart. And she continues to pray for Casey’s heart to be healed and changed by God because she loves him.

Casey finally has it out with God, admitting how he betrayed Maria, the guilt he feels over the death of five fellow soldiers and his fear of facing the families of those soldiers. He wonders where God is and asks why God has taken everyone he’s ever loved, and God audibly responds. God tells Casey to trust Him, come out of the darkness and walk with Him. Casey obeys, taking steps to reconcile with Maria, forgive himself for the accidental deaths of his men and finally visit their families to tell them how “brave and valiant” their sons were.

Sexual Content

After flirting with a girl all night, Casey wakes up shirtless in bed with a note on his nightstand from her, indicating that he had sex with her (and therefore cheated on Maria).

A teenage girl hints at the differences between male and female bodies in a vaguely sexual context. (And an unfortunate camera angle emphasizes her rear end, though it seems accidental.)

Casey and Maria kiss several times. A girl wears a revealing top. A man derogatorily calls a woman “toots.”

Violent Content

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following section.]

As a child, Casey tackles a boy who was bullying Maria at school. He is confused when he gets suspended for this act since he thought he was doing the right thing. Bo teaches his grandson that while it was right to defend Maria’s dignity and honor, it was wrong to throw the first punch. He then states that cowboys should only ever deliver two blows: the second and the last.

Later in life, Casey gets into a fistfight again, but this time, he listens to Bo, waiting for the other guy to strike first before “beating him half to death.” (We see the other man loaded into an ambulance, and Casey is rightfully arrested.)

Casey leads a team of Army Special Forces. A training montage shows them firing guns and wrestling with each other. However, after watching the events of September 11, 2001, on TV, they are sent into real battle in the Middle East.

Casey’s team fights in several skirmishes, and we see bodies fall. When two of Casey’s team members are shot, we see bloody wounds as well.

Casey rescues a young girl who ran into the middle of a gunfight, taking her inside the house where his team is sheltering. Moments later, the house explodes, killing the girl and Casey’s entire team. Casey survives (with a permanent limp), only to learn that the girl had been wired with an explosive suicide vest.

Casey’s dad, we’re told, died serving in the military. Bo also served during World War II and survived a gunshot wound. But he eventually passes away when the shrapnel from that wound moves into his heart—though he lived 40 years longer than doctors estimated.

A soldier is placed on suicide watch while recovering in the hospital. Later, when he returns home, he contemplates suicide again, going so far as to put a cocked pistol to his temple.

A parent comments on the danger of bull-riding, and we see many people fall off and get trampled by the animals. Casey breaks his arm while participating. People shoot a buck while hunting. Maria punches Casey. A man punches a steering wheel in anger. Two men trade knives.

Crude or Profane Language

None, but we hear the profanity substitutes “heck” and “frickin’.” There’s also a moment where Casey nearly calls Maria the b-word but is cut off.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Casey gives in to peer pressure, drinking heavily with his friends at a bar despite being underage. Later in life, he drinks heavily and frequently to cope with his grief.

Other Negative Elements

Maria is mistreated by Casey on several occasions. When she loses her event at the State Championship (the same one where Casey won his), she is understandably upset. But rather than sympathize with her, Casey gets angry that she isn’t more excited for him. And when she tries to explain that she doesn’t know how to grieve her own loss while rejoicing over his victory, he threatens their relationship, stating that lots of girls would be happy to celebrate with him. (And that night he cheats on her.)

Later on, Casey lies to Maria about his infidelity. He then gaslights her, telling Maria that it’s somehow her fault that he cheated. Years later, he is apologetic for these actions but still grows angry when she refuses to trust him (and get back together with him) even though she’s forgiven him.

Casey is both prideful and at times stubbornly independent. He initially refuses to apologize to Maria for cheating on her, stating that she’ll “get over it.” When he’s going through tragic circumstances, he refuses to seek help, choosing to isolate himself and fester instead. When someone warns him that he could go to prison, he acts as if he doesn’t care. And even his choice to join the military, while brave, was based on pride since he considered it “family tradition” even though Bo had already reassured him it wasn’t necessary.

A man starts insulting a soldier in a bar, calling patriotism “the last refuge of scoundrels.” He insinuates that the man is a mercenary and mocks him.

Some young boys pick on Maria for being an immigrant, calling her a “beaner” and “fence-jumper” before knocking off her hat. Casey’s mom is appalled when she realizes Bo has signed Casey up for a dangerous sport without her consent. We hear a man abandoned his wife and children.

Conclusion

“God, country, and the cowboy way” serves as Peace River’s tagline. And honestly, I can’t think of a more fitting description.

Casey Shane is a cowboy serving God and his country. He loves big skies and open ranges. He works hard, is a man of his word and is loyal to his friends and family. He treats everyone with respect—especially his woman—and is a model of courage. He fears God alone but fears no man. Just like his pop taught him.

But he didn’t always.

In Peace River, Casey goes through the proverbial ringer. He started life losing his family—his dad dying when he was very young. Then he lost his woman after mistreating her. Then he lost his friends to war. And finally, he lost more family when his beloved grandfather passed away.

But there was another lesson Bo taught him: the importance of a friendship with God.

Again, Casey didn’t always have it together, but by journeying with God through life, he eventually found his way to redemption. He mended his relationship with Maria. He did right by the families of his lost friends. And he “cowboyed up” to take care of his mom and grandma after Bo passed on.

Families going to watch Peace River this weekend will find a film void of foul language or explicit sexual content (although we do hear about sexual infidelity). There are a few questionable spiritual moments, such as when Casey audibly hears the voice of God. And Casey’s early treatment of Maria is appalling and could be triggering to victims of emotional abuse.

Families will also find a surprising amount of violence. There are depictions of the War on Terror, and many combatants are killed. We then watch as Casey battles PTSD, blaming himself for the deaths of his men and even contemplating suicide. Not to mention a violent bar brawl where he beats a man “half to death.”

All that said, however, this gritty faith-focused film still serves as a wonderful message about redemption and the importance of trusting God in all circumstances. It honors those who have served in the military (and a portion of all proceeds from this movie will go to aiding veterans and their families). And it paints a beautiful portrait of “the cowboy way,” portraying good, God-fearing men at their best.

Peace River is showing for a limited time in select theaters starting April 28. Check your local listings or the movie’s website for screening availability in your area.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.