A few months ago I was contacted and asked if I’d like to review the movie Voiceless in advance of its October release.
Battling his own inner-demons, Jesse (Rusty Joiner: Last Ounce Of Courage, Dodgeball, “Days of Our Lives”) encounters a young, pregnant teen overcome with grief that, after an impulsive abortion, has her family blaming Jesse for more than just her final decision. Jesse’s wife Julia (Jocelyn Cruz: Strike One, This Is Our Time) must come to terms with her own choices and decide if she can support her husband as opposition mounts against him. Comedian Paul Rodriguez also stars as Virgil with James Russo as Pastor Gil.
I have mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that the overall tone is thoughtful and the filmmakers resisted tying up everything in a neat bow at the end. On the other, what should be an emotionally-charged story falls flat in many places.
Thoughtfulness is both the strength and weakness of Voiceless. Jesse Dean is not presented as a perfect action hero, but as a normal, flawed human being. In fact, all of the characters are relatable. Of special note is that the manager of the abortion clinic isn’t a crazed, bloodthirsty killer. She believes that she is helping women, just as Jesse believes he’s helping them. Though there is clear moral right and wrong on display, nobody is cast as a villain. A movie like this could have easily gone that direction.
Unfortunately, these good elements somehow come together and make for a plot that moves at a snail’s pace. I found myself thinking, “Come on,” more than once. I think that we, the audience, were supposed to have a sense of taking part in Jesse’s struggle, but instead we’re treated to lingering shots that cause already-slow movement to drag. I think this comes down to editing rather than a story flaw; a good 10-15 minutes could have been shaved off, making for a film that packed more punch.
Not that I wanted Voiceless to be loud or in my face. I actually liked that it was on the quieter side. There were some moments that needed to land hard, though, and didn’t quite get there. Example: Jesse’s interactions with a pregnant teen and her boyfriend needed to feel more urgent, like there was truly something on the line. Additionally, when he and his wife finally come to the moment when they discuss their shared past, instead of feeling shocked I thought, “Yeah, saw that coming.”Voiceless crawled where it shouldn’t have and sprinted where it needed to slow down.
I genuinely can’t decide what I think of the main character being male. Abortion is not a women-only issue, for sure, despite what some claim. Yet I wonder how I would have felt if a lone man stood outside Planned Parenthood the day I visited and tried to convince me not to go inside. Like many of the women in the movie, I probably would have ignored him and thought that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Now, years later, I know many men who ooze compassion for women in that position. Still, I think it would have been more powerful for me to see a woman reaching out to her sisters.
The story itself is one that is lived out in every town, big or small, each day. How should Christians respond to abortion? Is it enough to pray for the people involved in offering that service and for the people who take advantage of the offering? Should we protest, and if so, what form should that take? We see Jesse wrestle with these questions. We see him get it wrong more than once. We see the other Christians around him get it wrong.
But ultimately, they do something. That, I think, is the point of Voiceless. Sitting inside our comfortable churches, piously and hollowly praying for people doesn’t do much good, but neither does violent protest. Our hearts must move from both coldness and extreme zeal. We must love as God loves, act how He acts.
I recommend Voiceless, whatever your views on abortion, on the grounds that it is something different. It’s not a perfect movie, but the filmmakers deserve credit for avoiding a condemning, judgmental tone and for striving to contribute to national debate in a thoughtful, positive way.