Ron Hall lost track of what matters most in life. It took an affair, a confession, a dream and an unlikely friendship with a homeless man to help him remember.
From the outside, Ron Hall’s seemingly charmed life looked pretty perfect: He had a flourishing art business, a beautiful wife, two fine teen children and an amazing 15,000 square foot house in Fort Worth, Texas.
But appearances can be deceptive.
Ron’s marriage to his wife of 19 years, Debby, hasn’t thrived for a long time. Workaholism has taken a toll: Ron’s been having an affair. So even when a friend forces him to confess (“If you don’t tell Debbie, I will”), Ron’s admission remains tainted with twinge of justification: “We haven’t been intimate in two years,” he scolds.
Debby corrects him: “No. We haven’t slept together for two years. We haven’t been intimate in 10 years.”
It’s a hard moment. But Ron decides his marriage is worth another shot: “I choose you,” he eventually tells her.
Even as Ron recommits to Debby, she’s having … dreams. Dreams about a wise old black man who beckons her to follow him. Dreams that seem to mean … something.
Debby soon drags Ron along to help her volunteer at a Fort Worth homeless shelter, Union Gospel Mission, where everyone knows her. “Miss Debby” serves with a smile, always asking, What’s your name? How are you doing?
And Ron? “Can’t we just write a check?” he asks. He’s willing to give money. But getting his hands dirty? Mingling among people with … germs? Nope.
That’s when Suicide shows up. With a baseball bat.
Suicide doesn’t talk much. But he’s been known to go after people with that bat when he’s angry. Debby isn’t intimidated when he smashes a window. She rebukes him: “There’s a little girl right here! What are you doing?!”
Suicide scowls. And leaves.
But it’s hardly the last time Debby and Ron will see him. That’s because Suicide—whose real name they learn is Denver Moore—is the wise man in Debby’s dream.
Meeting Denver—and loving him through his scowls, growls and ill-tempered moments—will change Debby and Ron forever. And Denver’s life story will change theirs, too … especially the rich art dealer who never really wanted to get his hands dirty.
What would you do if your spouse started having dreams about a wise man and he ended up being a notoriously violent guy down at the homeless shelter? Most of us would probably respond like Ron Hall does: We can’t get involved. We can’t solve his problems. We should just write a check.
But Debby won’t accept those answers. And Ron gradually, grudgingly begins to show up at the shelter with the same spirit of service his wife exemplifies. It’s not an overnight transformation. But he warms to the idea of actually loving the people there—especially Denver—with no strings attached. And as he does so, it positively impacts his marriage, his relationship with his two teen children (Carson and Regan), and his perspective on how important his work is (or isn’t).
Denver initially wants to know if Ron is going to treat him the way white people often treat fishing: catch and release. Denver’s rightly concerned that Ron’s not sincerely interested in friendship, that he’s just a project. But Ron sticks around, and Denver shares his entire story (which we see in a flashback), about growing up poor in Louisiana, about the tragic death of his grandmother (who cared for him), about his horrific encounters with white people (more on that in violent content).
Debby invites Ron to spend a night in their home one desperate evening, and they learn even more about Denver’s violent, tragic past. He assumes once they know how tainted he truly is, they’ll reject him. But they don’t. And Ron and Debby’s presence in Denver’s life becomes a transformative influence—for him and for them.
Debby’s dreams are about more than just Denver, however. She also dreams of making the homeless shelter a place of beauty and vitality. One of the workers there, a man named Jimmy, is similarly committed (having been homeless himself) to helping the homeless.
The movie repeatedly emphasizes that many people become homeless due to situations beyond their control: the loss of a job, loss of a family member, divorce and the like. It also suggests that substance abuse is often a contributing factor in, too.
Denver slowly becomes almost a member of the Hall family. But that’s sore spot for Ron’s alcoholic, emotionally abusive father, Earl. Ron’s relationship with his dad is tentative at best; and after a meal full of particularly foul talk from Earl, Ron tells him to leave and never come back. But Denver helps Ron see that Earl needs still needs Ron’s love and forgiveness, that change is even possible for someone as seemingly lost in addiction and bitterness as Earl is.
With regard to Ron’s affair, Debby responds quite remarkably. She’s willing to forgive her husband and give him another chance. She even calls the woman and tells her over the phone, “This is Debby. I’m Ron’s wife. Please don’t hang up. … I just want you to know that I don’t blame you. And I forgive you. And I hope you find someone who truly loves you like Ron and I used to love each other. If we can find that again, you won’t be hearing from my husband anymore.”
[Spoiler Warning] Debby is diagnosed with terminal cancer, a staggering blow to the Hall family. They struggle to make sense, spiritually speaking, of why God would let this happen. Ron tenderly cares for his increasingly ill wife, and Debby asks him to promise that he’ll continue to be a part of Denver’s life after she’s gone. Debby also asks her two children to be willing to let their father remarry, emphasizing that she wants him to be happy after she’s gone.
Debby is a devout Christian (we see her open Bible). But she lets her actions do most of the talking. Her devotion is evident in the way it motivates her to love the homeless people at the shelter.
Denver tells Ron the story of his baptism as a boy, in which his uncle asks him, “Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day?” Denver talks about praying for Debby, and he says a beautiful prayer before Christmas dinner. He articulates his belief that everything is in God’s hands. And he says of heaven, “Whether we’s rich or whether we’s poor, or somewhere in between, we’s all homeless. Every last one of us. Just workin’ our way back home.”
At one point, Ron stays with a friend who lives close to a church. A woman tells him that the church bells ring because it’s “revival season.” Ron walks up to the church, but doesn’t go in. And though he respects his wife’s faith, he doesn’t share it. He says, “Debby was always selling me on how God works in mysterious ways, like that’s supposed to make me like Him more. Well, whatever she was selling, I wasn’t buying.” It’s unclear in the end whether Ron’s spiritual stance has changed. (That said, Ron and Denver would later go on to speak about their faith and friendship at churches and events.)
The glass mirror (that Denver smashes in anger) has much of 1 Corinthians 13 written on it.
Ron and Debby kiss and cuddle. After one such embrace, she says of her husband’s kindness toward Denver, “It’s pretty sexy what you did today.” It’s implied that they’re about to reconnect sexually, as she leads him by the hand to the bedroom.
Ron looks at a book of Mary Cassatt’s paintings. On the cover is her 1891 work “La Toilette” (“Woman Bathing”) which shows what a woman with her dress pulled down to her waist as she washes in a basin. Her bare back is visible.
Ron looks for Denver one night and is suggestively solicited by a woman: “Mr. Mercedes! You been looking for me, baby? ‘Cause I’ve been lookin’ for you.” Later, she shows up at the shelter, telling Debby her name is Clara. She also confesses, “I done things I’m not proud of.”
Denver is initially very volatile. He smashes a mirrored window, raging, “I’m gonna kill whoever stole my jewels.” He sweeps stuff off a table with his bat. He slams doors loudly. He smashes a window in Ron’s Mercedes SUV. He tangles with another man.
A horrific flashback implies that Denver is dragged behind white men on horses. We don’t see much of that actual act, but we do see them slip a noose over his head and the horses begin to trot off. He also quips about getting his “butt whipped.” Another flashback shows the rural shack where Denver lived with his grandmother going up in flames, killing her.
Still another flashback shows young Denver trying to rob a bus driver, which he says resulted in a 10-year prison sentence where he was essentially treated like a slave. He also confesses that he killed people in self-defense while in prison to, it’s implied, avoid being killed or raped himself.
We hear the n-word once in the present, and several times when men use it to describe Denver in a flashback.
One muffled use of “oh my god.” Earl says of his wife, “I gave her a lot of h— over the years,” then says of Ron, “You’ve given her a lot of h—, too.”
Two more uses of that word at the end of the film could be heard as profanities or as references to that theological concept. Denver says, “Sometimes, you just gotta bless the h— out of people. Your daddy, he had a lotta h— in there.”
Earl, an alcoholic, drinks constantly. His speech is often drunkenly slurred. Earl tries to get Ron to drink with him, looking for his son’s validation. Ron refuses. Earl also gives Ron a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey for Christmas; again, Ron refuses to receive it.
A man says that his son was killed by a drunk driver, and that he coped with the loss by using liquor and drugs—a choice that contributed to his homelessness.
Denver relates that his grandmother used to take painkillers she dubbed “Red Devils.” There’s a joke about root beer.
Ron jokes with a friend about the time they ate “bulls balls.”
At one point, Earl is wearing long underwear when Ron and Debby come to visit. When his wife asks him if he’s going to put pants on, he responds, “Nah. It’s just family.” Elsewhere, Earl says that homeless shelters have “more germs than a rest-stop toilet seat.” His prejudice is evident again when he opines that many homeless people are just “a bunch of lazy Negroes.”
As a child, Denver (very briefly) has a friend whose father is in the KKK. Denver, unaware as a boy of what that organization is, tries on white robes with his young friend, before the boy’s mother discovers them in the barn and chases Denver out. Later, Denver sees Klan costumes in a musuem painting, and it’s a harrowing emotional moment. Racist members of Ron’s country club ask him to stop bringing his “amigo Negro” to the club.
In many ways, our world today is focused on divisions, on differences. Differences between people of different gender and race, between people of different economic status, between people of different belief systems. It’s easy, perhaps even natural, to find members of our same “tribe,” those who share our worldview and our demographic traits.
It’s much less natural to reach across those boundaries, to try to understand others’ experiences, to serve those who have almost nothing in common with us. It’s easier to ignore them—especially the homeless—to act as if they don’t exist.
Debby Hall doesn’t do that. She doesn’t talk much about her faith, but it obviously inspires her to act with love. She’s determined to make a positive difference, sometimes just by being present with people who haven’t been asked what their names are in a very long time.
Debby’s servant’s heart and sacrificial love has a radical impact upon her husband, Ron. And together, their love impacts Denver Moore as well, a man whose life has been nothing but one oppressive, violent experience after another.
It’s an inspiring true story, and we learn that it eventually inspired Ron Hall to record it all in a book. Together, he and Denver helped to raise a reported $90 million (according to Ron Hall) for homeless shelters across the country—a remarkable harvest reaped from the seeds planted by his wife’s simple-but-profound love.
Along the way, this profound story reminds us that no matter how deep the differences that separate us, just a bit of love may help us to see others’ dignity instead of choosing not to see them at all.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.