Jun 4, 2015

"The Cokeville Miracle" Review

The Cokeville Miracle

4 out of 5 stars

Family appropriateness rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Rated PG-13
-Shots of injuries/minimal blood
-Some of the intense scenes may be too
much for some people, including small

Note: There are minor spoilers in this review, but it is impossible to talk about the movie without having them. It is about a real event, and history is in itself a spoiler. 

In the film, "The Life of Pi," the title character tells his life story to a novelist. Building up to it, he says it is "a story that will make you believe in God." I do not agree that a story can make anyone believe something, but it can trigger the process of doing so or even reinforce someone's faith. "The Cokeville Miracle"is one of those stories.

The film is based on the true story of David Young (Nathan Stevens), former marshal of Cokeville, Wyoming, who ropes his wife, Doris (Kymberly Mellen), into holding-up an elementary school there. They bring all the children into one room and threaten to blow them up with a homemade bomb if they do not cooperate.

When it goes off, the only people who die are Mr. and Mrs. Young. The fact that all the children and teachers escape safely is a miracle in-and-of itself. However, Ron Hartley (Jasen Wade), a parent of two survivors, finds out there is more to this story than meets the eye.

After seeing the movie, I got the chance to speak to writer/director T.C. Christensen about the film. He said he had heard about the Cokeville bombing in news reports and in a made-for-tv movie, but none of those media exposed the spiritual side of the story. That is the angle he takes with this movie. It goes beyond telling us "There was a bomb. It exploded, and everyone lived, which is a miracle."

What makes this film so interesting is it really happened. Christensen did first-hand research in which he talked to the survivors and learned their stories. More than one of them had a spiritual experience during the incident. It is impossible to prove God's existence to someone, but the events explained in this movie can be a catalyst that gets people to at least think about it.

As far as storytelling goes, the film is hit-and-miss. When it hits, it engages. The best scenes are the ones in the classroom where the Young couple hold the children hostage. Christensen constructed the scenes in a way that put me at the edge of my seat. It shows that one wrong move by anyone can end in disaster.

Kymberly Mellen steals the show as Doris Young. She is an interesting, complex character. She seems like a typical mother-type who loves children, but what she does contradicts this impression. I looked forward to every scene with her.

Where this film falls short is in the script. Christensen said he spent a lot of time on it, and it shows with the accuracy of the story and the characterizations. He does a good job developing the characters to where they each have separate personalities and motivations. Where it goes wrong is with the dialogue itself, particularly in the first act. It is a little redundant at parts, and it does not sound like the way people talk.

Some of the drama does not have sufficient build-up to be as impactful as it goes for. The main example I can think of is a scene where one of the characters drives to the police station to tell the cops what is going on. She runs in yelling. I understand why she reacts this way, but the last time we see her before that, she is much calmer. There is not sufficient build-up to warrant yelling.

The last criticism I have about this movie is while I enjoy the message, the ending can come off as preachy. Before the credits, there are explanations about what happened to the characters later, which is pretty standard for movies about real people. After that, there is an explanation of what we just saw and what we can take away from it. The movie would have been better off letting us think about it for ourselves rather than telling us what to think.

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