Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ragamuffin - Movie Review

Well-known skeptic David Hume once traveled twenty miles to hear celebrity evangelical George Whitefield preach. When asked if he believed what Whitefield said, Hume replied: "No. But he does."

If there was anything I could tell about Rich Mullins, it was that he did. That's impossible to fake, and Ragamuffin, the indie biopic of Mullins's life, doesn't. However, it has its moments.

Beginning in Rich's troubled childhood on a mid-western farm, the film stretches through college, his musical career, and retirement to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. One of the most significant problems is pacing, and I'd say that at least half an hour could have been lost with no ill effects.

While quickly proving that it is no bright, sunny Christian flick, Ragamuffin does at times spin into the opposite pitfall of self-important hipsterism. Michael Koch is impressive, given his meager film experience, but he can't quite play someone as sincere as Rich (I mean, how can you be a sincere impersonator?) Koch's character is angsty, angry and considers himself a free spirit. And while I didn't know him personally, that wasn't my impression of Rich Mullins.

If he was a free spirit, it wasn't intentionally. He wasn't a mainstream artist, but he wasn't trying not to be. He was effortlessly at home in his own skin, talked easily of God's love, scolded fundamentalists in their own churches, offered detailed biblical commentary in rambling song introductions, and set the Apostle's Creed to music. If he criticized the church, it was always from the inside, and always affectionately.

Koch's Mullins is definitely on the outside. That's okay. We need stories about outsiders. But it alters the texture of the tale, and ultimately, that's why I couldn't quite believe it as a story about Rich Mullins. True enough, I'm sure a lot of these struggles and problems did happen in Rich's life, but to portray them without the other side, the joyful Chesterton reader, the guy who wrote a song called "Maker of Noses," feels skewed.

So, all that said, accepting it without reference to the real Rich Mullins, it's still an okay movie. From an artistic stand-point, it makes much use of fields and skies, to great effect. Acting is generally a bit uneven. Koch is good, and director David Schultz adds some much needed humor to the mix as jokester Sam Howard. The actor that plays the late Brennan Manning is dynamite. The project as a whole is obviously very heartfelt. It did have me a bit teary-eyed at one point, which seldom happens (I probably ought to create a Hannah Long Cried Here badge for those rare films.) But in the end, even with all these things, I felt that the best representation of Rich Mullins is this:

2.5/5 stars

Hannah Long

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