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AN NRT MOVIE REVIEW
'Cabrini' Movie Review
NRT's J.J. Francesco reviews the new film from Angel Studios
 


AN NRT MOVIE REVIEW, 'Cabrini' Movie Review
Posted: February 15, 2024 | By: JJFrancesco_NRT
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Angel Studios is one of the rising stars of the film and television industry. Buoyed by the overwhelming success of the popular television show The Chosen and the blockbuster film Sound of Freedom, Angel Studios is becoming a household name in both faith-based and mainstream entertainment circles. With stronger performances, cinematography, and production values than many have come to expect from anything perceived as a "Christian" film, coupled with a unique business model that has yielded financial returns that have left competing studios scrambling for an explanation, Angel Studios are poised to make even more inroads in Hollywood in 2024.

Enter Cabrini, a biopic inspired by the life of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, an Italian immigrant nun who was the first American citizen to be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. Her legacy of service has reached every corner of the world, providing millions with access to education and medical care.

The film will drop on International Women's Day, a fitting timeframe given the film's topic. Unabashedly "feminist" without necessarily falling prey to the trappings associated with the sociopolitics of modern-day feminism. Likewise, the film's portrayal of the struggles of the immigrant couldn't be more topical, given the tense state of race relations and immigration we face today. And yet, while tackling these themes head-on, the film's real-life story also subverts a lot of familiar talking points. Focusing on the struggles and prejudices faced by Italian immigrants in the 19th century, the film offers a look into messier corners of American history that are sure to upend narratives from both right-wing and left-wing pundits. 

Starring Italian actress Christina Dell'Anna as Cabrini, the film is a rich character study of one woman's determination. Dell'Anna, to no surprise, carries the movie on her back. Bold and convicting where necessary, Dell'Anna also lets us see Cabrini's vulnerabilities and humanity. Like many religious biopics, the film balances quiet moments and more tense conflicts in an extended runtime. Dell'Anna's screen presence keeps you from ever wanting to check out during some of the lulls in the conflict. 

Other cast members, Giancarlo Giannini, John Lithgow, and David Morse, are effective in their limited roles. If there is one criticism of the film, it's that only some of the film's more supporting players are given too much depth, albeit the cast still effectively does what is asked of them. A few prominent subplots end partway through the film that could have benefitted from follow-up. But these are minor compared to the overall compelling narrative.

Consequently, more focus could have been on the central character's faith. The Church is a mix of obstacles and influences for Cabrini in the film's narrative. Although the story is fine, I want to explore Cabrini's religious perspectives more deeply. She helped countless people with their physical needs, making her a hero from both a Christian and secular point-of-view. But she was also a nun with a passion for saving souls. It would have been nice to see this angle, given more space. That said, I also understand the creative decision to make the Cabrini portrayed in the film relatable to viewers regardless of their religious background.

As someone of Italian heritage, I could relate to the struggles portrayed in the film. While it's more or less known that Italians faced prejudices when they came to America, our modern talking points have glossed over this chapter of history. Likewise, the average person could be forgiven for not knowing who Mother Cabrini was, despite the vast network of good that owes itself to her unwavering faith and determination in continuing her work in the face of opposition at every turn. Mother Cabrini faced great physical and societal struggles and still changed the world. From a faith-based and secular point of view, she is a strong model of conviction and heroism. As she says in one of the film's standout quotes, "We can serve our weakness, or we can serve our purpose, not both."

A compelling study of the resilience of human determination, the film explores the struggles of immigrants and women in 19th-century America through an objective lens. While not without a few missed opportunities, the film strikes the right balance between character, story, and theme. It should be a thought-provoking cinematic experience for viewers of all political persuasions. Angel Studios has another winner on their hands, and its reputation as the home of high-art faith-based entertainment should get a nice boost from this. 

 

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. His new novel, 'When Miracles Can Dream,' is out NOW!

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