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‘Billy’ is inspiring, entertaining

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–“I purchased the Love Dare book for my daughter and her husband. They saw it (Fireproof) Friday night and my son-in-law went to church today for the first time in about 5 years.” A fellow church member sent that e-mail to me concerning the effect the film and the 40-day marriage saver featured in “Fireproof” are having on her family. Wow, if you’d made a movie, wouldn’t you love to hear of such an effect made thanks to the Holy Spirit blessing your effort?

For a change, there’s some dynamic entertainment hitting the movie theaters. In addition to “Fireproof” (PG) — which is in its third weekend — “Billy: The Early Years,” a bio on Billy Graham opens in theaters this weekend.

I feared Billy: The Early Years (PG) would fall into the same trap as most biographical efforts by aggrandizing the spotlighted famous figure or reducing supporting characters to caricatures.

But it somewhat surprised and definitely pleased me with the lush look and smart script. And the producers wisely peppered their cast of characters with seasoned showfolk. Martin Landau (“Ed Wood,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) is poignant as Charles Templeton and Lindsay Wagner, the one-time Bionic Woman, infuses her small but pivotal role as Billy’s mother with dimension and a transcendent plainness. But you can’t have a film about Billy Graham without an effective lead actor. Fortunately, Armie Hammer fits the bill. The young Mr. Hammer (“Veronica Mars,” “Flicka”) captures the look, the mannerisms, and most importantly, the inner motivation of Dr. Graham.

The stand-out moment is Billy’s conversion. I’ve seen enough conversion scenes in “church movies” (and even have been in a few) that seemed forced and phony. Here, the ethereal transformation is done so effectively that it will likely cause some viewers to summon up the moment the Holy Spirit introduced them to Christ. And very possibly, nonbelievers will sense something intangible but real, with the power to change a life’s direction.

Despite a limpid title that begs ridicule, this take on a man willing to say, “Take me Lord, just as I am,” is compelling, inspiring and downright entertaining.
Phil Boatwright reviews films for previewonline.org and is a regular columnist for Baptist Press. Billy: The Early Years is rated PG (we see historical film footage of holocaust victims, this is hard to view, but the scene is brief and serves a purpose; we see a dying, bloodied child wheeled on a gurney through a hospital — these two tableaus are presented to raise Templeton’s loss of faith as he can’t find an answer to “How can a loving God …”)

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  • Phil Boatwright