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‘Billy: The Early Years’: A Heartfelt Tribute to Graham

posted by Kris Rasmussen

BillyEarlyYEars.jpgIt would be a Herculean task to try to encompass the entire career of the world’s most famous evangelist, Billy Graham, so when producers as well as director Robby Benson (yes, “Ice Castles” Robby Benson) decided to do a biopic, they very wisely decided to focus on Graham’s transformation from Tennessee farm boy to the beginning of his rise to international preacher to the masses. It is, in fact, most likely this period of time is the part of Graham’s life that Christians probably know the least about, and mainstream society probably even less. So, in that sense, “Billy: The Early Years”, which opens Friday, is an insightful glimpse into the man behind the legend. While the movie is an unabashed love letter to both Billy and his wife Ruth, the movie is neither too precious in its treatment of Graham’s accomplishments nor is it too heavy-handed in it’s recalling of most events. It also introduces audiences to a young man who is probably going to go on to be a major movie star–Armie Hammer, who plays Graham.


“Billy” begins with an elderly man who we learn is former evangelist Charles Templeton lying on his death bed, giving his final interview. During the interview, he begins to tell the story of what he knows of Billy Graham’s early years.
The flashbacks begin with Graham as a teen searching for purpose, when he reluctantly attends a tent revival meeting. The outcome of that meeting is Graham feeling the beginning of a call on his life to go into ministry. He heads off to Bob Jones College, but after a disagreement with Bob Jones himself, Graham then transfers to another Bible college in Florida. He is not the best or the brightest there, either, and most friends and professors seem to believe he will become nothing more than a small town preacher. Of course, we all know this is anything but true, but the movie focuses on the journey he and wife Ruth take in getting into full-time, nationwide evangelism and the conflicts along the way.
While the movie tries a little bit too hard in places to be funny and it maybe hits a little too feverishly on the theme of Graham not becoming “the chosen one” not due to talent but due to sincerity, for the most part this movie’s straightforward earnestness is an asset, not a hindrance. It simply doesn’t try to be anything more or less than what it is–a biopic that does delve too deeply into any one aspect of Graham’s life, but does a respectable job of hitting the important points.
Where the movie is at its strongest is in capturing the deep abiding love Billy and Ruth have for each other. They were each other’s equals in mind and spirit, as well as equally committed to sharing the gospel. Certainly Armie Hammer’s charismatic and dead-on depiction helps bring authenticity to this love story, as does the delightfully vivacious performance by Stefanie Butler as Ruth.
Of equal interest is the other main relationship of the movie–between Charles Templeton and Graham. While Templeton originally starts out as something of a mentor to Graham, in a post-World War II society, he begins to have a crisis of faith and never recovers from it. It’s a bit of Graham’s history I certainly didn’t know much about and would have like to have learned more.
This is a film that will certainly play well in the heartland, but I think what will be more interesting is whether the movie will be successful enough to play on the coasts, and whether less conservative religious communities will be willing to give the movie a chance. I certainly hope so, as it could alter pre-conceptions of Graham, as well as spark some interesting conversations about the choices we make when wrestling with spiritual questions of faith and doubt.



  • John

    So a movie about cheat and fleecer billy graham. He was nothing more than a Godless, cheat, who fleeced his Flock. His family should be ashamed even having his name. He preached for money. Which is Jesus Spoke against time after time in the bible.

  • BroBrooz1

    John, of course you’re entitled to your opionion-and I’d be interested in what led you to it.
    How is he,
    Godless
    a cheat
    flock fleecer
    preacher for money…?
    Even his critics have given him credit for sincerity, and integrity.

  • Shelley

    Wow John, we’ve had many televangelists in our time who were charlatans and money grabbers, but I would never consider Billy Graham one of them. He has always struck me as being completely sincere.

  • Warren

    I can’t wait to see this film. We might even go today to the first show. John…I don’t get your comment at all. Although I may not agree with everything that Billy believes, I think of him as one of the best preachers out there. Jesus spoke against preaching for money? Hmmm. Don’t remember that specifically. I do know that Paul preached that we should pay our pastors. He always worked on the side because he didn’t want to ever be a burden, but he taught that a preacher of the gospel should be paid. I don’t go along with the teaching that preachers and missionaries should not be paid.

  • http://Explanation John

    First: Paul was an apostle- not a preacher. Second: The bible does not teach, that one should preach for money. That is called priestcraft. Third: Good ole billy does not hold the priesthood authority as did the apostles. So thus a Lier and a Cheat.

  • Pam

    John
    You come across as being very bitter in your personal life – to say such things about a man that so many love, repect and hold in honor.
    You can have your opinion but I feel you are putting someone down that you really haven’t taken the time to really get to know.
    Would you like to be judged the way that you are judging him ?

  • http://www.billytheearlyyears.com Matt

    I’m sorry John that you look at this man, the way you do. I would agree that there are some out there today who do preach for money and have missed the point as to why they have been called to stand before other sinners and preach God’s word, but Billy Graham was and is not one of these people.
    Regardless, I had the opportunity to check this movie out and was deeply touched. Knowing that Billy Graham was once in the same situation of questioning God as I am, and now look where he is. It was also extremely amazing to see how much he loved Ruth and would do everything to keep her and to have her. It made me rethink my marriage with my wife and learn to love her through everything.
    If you get a chance, go see this movie.

  • Ryan

    John, I believe you have not read the bible. If you have, you do not appear to have understood God’s word. Paul was an evangelist standing before men and women his entire life preaching. “For if I preach the Good News, I have nothing to boast about; for necessity is laid on me; but woe is to me, if I don’t preach the Good News.” 1COR 9:16. No, the bible does not teach that people should preach for money, but you need money to to share the gospel. Please read what Paul mentions in 2Corinthians 8 and 9. Also, A priest is someone that is set apart to preach the gospel, the true gospel, as did Billy Graham. I have not yet seen the movie, but book was excellent. John, I will pray for you right now.
    Thank you, Ryan

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