June 7, 2011
Can Rapists and Murderers Be Forgiven?
That's the question behind the amazing true-story of 'Heaven's Rain'
Heaven’s Rain recreates an amazing true story of forgiveness with a so-so movie treatment. For sure, this independent film—now available on DVD—has some strong qualities and is far better than most you’ll see from the faith-based market. I just can’t help thinking such a powerful tale deserves an equally powerful production.Brooks Douglass, the son of a missionary pastor, was the youngest state senator ever elected to office in Oklahoma. But eleven years earlier in 1979, his family suffered a horrific tragedy. Two drifters arrived at their home, bound 16-year-old Brooks and his parents hand and foot, then led 12-year-old sister Leslie upstairs and raped her. Afterward, the men shot the four family members before escaping, leaving them all for dead. Brooks and Leslie survived and drove to a neighbor’s home for medical attention.
The story doesn’t end there, of course. Brooks and Leslie both dealt with deep emotional scars in the years that followed (and to this day, undoubtedly). If Heaven’s Rain focused more on that, it might have yielded deeper resonance. What helped these siblings along in the ’80s? Faith? Friendship? There’s reference to Brooks working his way through college and then joining Special Forces before eventually taking office, and Leslie surely found psychological care to aid in emotional recovery over time. But Heaven’s Rain skirts most of that, breaking the cardinal rule of “Show, Don’t Tell” in a film that needed to better share these details.
Instead the movie relies on heavy—and disjointed—use of flashbacks to detail Brooks’ life in the Amazon rainforest bonding with his father (played by none other than the real-life Brooks, who also co-wrote). These scenes are sometimes touching, but the flashbacks are too frequent without always justifying their relevance to the present day scenes surrounding them.
Muddled storytelling and pokey pacing aside, the filmmaking is still strong, on par with most independent productions seen in art house theaters today. Director and co-writer Paul Brown has a strong TV resume that ranges from The X-Files and Quantum Leap to Pacific Blue and the recent Camp Rock movies. It also helps that the film relies on experienced unknowns for actors rather than amateurs. And the filmmakers handle the difficult subject matter with great sensitivity. Though rated R for some disturbing violent content, there are only brief flashes to the night of the murder—it’s not much worse than what is shown in TV crime procedurals these days.
Without giving too much away, Heaven’s Rain is strongest in the final thirty minutes when Leslie recollects her side of the ordeal to a reporter and Brooks makes a brave confrontation. These scenes are positively electrifying in content and acting. If only the rest of the movie was equal to the task, but Heaven’s Rain still serves as a loving testament from son to father, and an impactful testimony about loving our enemies while forgiving ourselves.
Here's the trailer: