By Katie Walsh | Tribune press service
DJ Caruso’s historical drama/romance/morality play ‘Redeeming Love’ opens with Shakespeare’s quote ‘all that glitters is not gold’ and a pair of hands pushing a pan into a river, looking for gold. ‘a treasure. It sets the time and location of California during the Gold Rush era, in the town of Pair-a-Dice circa 1850, but the quote has no bearing on the unfolding narrative, based on the bestselling 1991 novel by Francine Rivers. There may be gold in those hills, but “Redeeming Love” yields no cinematic riches.
Our heroine in need of redemption is Angel (Abigail Cowen), a sex worker and Pair-a-Dice’s hottest ticket, her time being raffled off by the Duchess (Famke Janssen) to a crowd of fans. men who gather daily in front of the Palace brothel. As a child, Angel was trafficked into sex work by a slick pimp named Duke (Eric Dane) after the death of his destitute mother (Nina Dobrev), who appears to be wasting away in shame after she and her daughter were rejected by Angel’s father, who is married to another woman. For his part, Angel doesn’t seem to care too much about his life in Pair-a-Dice, although a knight in dusty denim will soon shake things up.
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Her redeemer is Michael (Tom Lewis), a folk farmer who prays for a woman who likes to go fishing. When he lays eyes on Angel, he laughs that God has a sense of humor, because his heaven-sent bride-to-be is the most expensive prostitute in town. Nonetheless, he persists, much to Angel’s chagrin, showing up for a chat as often as he can afford.
One could look at the plot of this film from two different angles: one Pollyannaish, the other deeply cynical. The filmmakers behind ‘Redeeming Love’ want audiences to see Michael as a loyal farmer who falls in love at first sight with a local sex worker and rescues her from her life of exploitation, marrying her and bringing her to his farm. and teaching her what it means to be loved, always forgiving when she strays. On the other hand, one could see Michael as a lonely religious fanatic who believes he is receiving a message from God that a local sex worker is destined to be his wife, prompting him to kidnap her from the brothel while she is in a weakened condition, pressing her into a life of wifely duties though she repeatedly tries to escape.
Every female character in “Redeeming Love” is a wife, prostitute, or dead, and the story lacks the imagination to imagine a woman’s “redemption” (if she even needs it) outside of a structure. heteropatriarchal family, arguing that what women need is for men to take them to the countryside to save them from themselves with some fresh air and some quick housework. It begs the question: why adapt this source material now? Dig too deep and we might not like the answer.
Stuck in this largely infantilized role, Cowen imbues Angel with as much verve and spunk as she can; it’s often funnier and darker than necessary, offering a refreshing dash of acid to temper the sickly sweetness. But it’s so hard to shake the lingering feelings about this text, which plays like “tradwife” fan fiction, the 19th century setting shielding the story from the pesky “women’s lib” movement, which would suggest Angel has her own autonomy, that it could be redeemed by its own self-respect. However, such radical concepts are priceless here.
What “Redemptive Love” • 1½ stars out of four • Duration 2:14 • Rating PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual content, partial nudity, and strong violent content