Canal Street is part “ripped from the headlines” and part “Christian film” that offers one of the genre’s more unique offerings of late. Featuring a cast with more familiar faces than you’d expect from a Christian film and production/acting that are a cut above the genre, this film stands out both as a cinematic offering and a timely examination of racism in our society.
The film is held back a bit by the “message” being a little too heavy-handed through a series of preaching and media segments peppered through the film. The media bits especially intrude on the plot’s momentum. I get what they were going for, and a critique of media response is well within the scope of what this film is about. But at the same time, it feels like something that could’ve been an accompaniment in the credits or a Bonus Feature. The film’s story and acting carry the message home with enough power that these bits serve more to distract than advance the theme. (Although I do greatly appreciate a much more multi-faceted take on the discussion than a secular film would likely give us.) It's both a compliment and a bit of a criticism that at several points during the film, when the media segments came up, I was practically screaming to return to the story.
The film’s third act also kind of skimps on earning its obligatory “twist.” While there’s not exactly NO buildup to the reveal, it kind of just happens without it needing to be earned. And the result is that the film’s climax, while engrossing enough on its own, doesn’t leave quite as much of an impact as it could have.
All of this to say that this film rises above expectations for the quality acting “Christian films” are known for. Several of the performances give the film a strong emotional weight that adds humanity to the often-rhetorical discussions about an issue.
The film is at best when there’s a two-way discussion on racial issues. The dialogue in these scenes is sharp and presenting the complexities instead of beating a theme over the viewer's head is likely to invite more introspection. When the film doesn’t take a clear side, the issues actually shine brighter and it feels like both a real story and a real-life lesson.
Those wary about faith-based films would still do well to give this one a chance, as the story at the heart of it is both engaging and timely. While some missteps muddy the film’s overall impact, this is still a commendable effort from a film genre that is still coming into its own.
J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community.
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