Friday, September 25, 2015

Eye Witness: "Amish Grace" (2010)


This Lifetime made-for-television film commits a huge blunder in its opening seconds.

The Grabers are an Amish family- father Gideon (Matt Letscher), mother Ida (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), and daughters Katie and Mary Beth (Karley Scott Collins and Madison Davenport). The girls attend a nearby school in their Pennsylvania community, and life is good. In October of 2006, Charlie Roberts (Matt Churchill) walked into the schoolhouse and murdered five girls before taking his own life. One of the children killed was Mary Beth. Among those grieving is Charlie's wife Amy (a fantastic Tammy Blanchard), and her father (Gary Graham). They had no idea this upstanding husband and family man was going to do something so horrible, and the Roberts family is really thrown when the Amish males come to help Amy and forgive the man who killed some of their offspring.

Not everyone is forgiving, however. Ida's sister is shunned for leaving the Amish faith, and with the help of a completely unrealistic television news reporter (Fay Masterson), Ida decides to leave the community herself. She cannot stomach forgiving anyone for what happened, but she isn't allowed to vent and speak out about her disagreement with the others.

The film desperately tries to raise some important questions about forgiveness and faith. I know straight away I wouldn't be able to forgive the killer so quickly. I can't even forgive those who have done less against me on a daily basis! The screenwriters present both sides of the argument, with Ida and Gideon seeming to be in the right. The crime was horrible and heartbreaking, and we may never know why Roberts did what he did, despite the easy movie reasons (which differ from other motives I have read about). And what of the Graber family? Did they ever reconcile their anger with their faith? I don't know. According to an opening crawl before the film, the Grabers are a fictional family. This tidbit of information almost completely negates the following hour and a half. The Grabers are based on a real family, but if they are fictitious, then how many more liberties did the screenwriters take with the characters (aside from the obvious). Names have been changed, families imagined, and what we are left with is something along the lines of a "Law and Order" episode that was torn from today's headlines, but *wink-wink* isn't based on any real people.

The Amish domestic scenes are excruciating in their bland happiness, and Williams-Paisley can't seem to nail her character down until after the shootings. Blanchard is excellent as Roberts' wife, never understanding why these strange people are helping her. Champion's direction is good, but his shots feel confined. He breaks out once in a while, but then pulls a scene out of his hat that is cringe-inducing in its obviousness (Roberts' funeral).

The film was based on a book of the same name, and I have also read that the authors tried to distance themselves from the production (which broke ratings records when it debuted). "Amish Grace" is a well-acted mess, and I wouldn't take anything you see as gospel. It was rated TV-PG and contains some adult situations. (* * *) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: Amish Grace

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