Not Easily Broken Review

Not Easily Broken, a melodrama of marital difficulty directed by Bill Duke, is based on a novel by T. D. Jakes, pastor of the Potter's House megachurch in Dallas and a powerhouse of that ever-expanding zone of American life in which religion, therapy and popular culture intersect. I don't want to go all Oprah on you, a character says at one point, but Mr. Jakes is doing a version of just that, advancing a more overtly Christian, and more frankly patriarchal, version of Oprah Winfrey's message of empathy, resilience and forgiveness.

Though Mr. Jakes has a small role in the movie (as well as several opening-title credits, including producer), his real on-screen surrogate is Albert Hall, who plays a serious and soft-spoken Los Angeles minister.

Among his flock are Dave and Clarice Johnson, a couple whose marriage is sorely, somewhat predictably and fairly realistically tested by an assortment of internal and external stresses.

The busy story line proceeds both by random unpredictability and by clumsy foreshadowing, introducing characters whose purpose is to illuminate various aspects of Dave's strong, quiet decency. Darnell (Wood Harris) is an ex-convict whose life of irresponsibility and dissolution is presented as a stark and pointed contrast to Dave's. Julie (Maeve Quinlan) is a single mother and a physical therapist whose friendship with Dave causes some easily foreseen trouble.

Mr. Duke's filmmaking is functional at best, and the extreme shifts in emotional tone - especially a late and disastrous swerve into tragedy - are handled clumsily in Brian Bird's script. Yet Not Easily Broken is not easily dismissed. For one thing, the cast is excellent, and for another, its intentions are serious and generous.

Not Easily Broken certainly has its own, fairly transparent, ideological agenda, but is nonetheless a thousand times more honest, and more humane, than Mr. Mendes's Revolutionary Road. Many more people are likely to see Mr. Duke's film, and to find it moving, edifying and even useful. That's not everything, of course. But it's not nothing either.

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