Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

A Star is Born. That would be Blake Rayne who headlines The Identical (opening nationwide tomorrow, 9/5) in the twin roles of fictional  ’50’s-60’s rock superstar Drexel Hemsley (read Elvis Presley) and Ryan Wade, the son of a preacher (Ray Liotta) who gets his big break as a Drexel impersonator. The twist that — unbeknownst to both of them — Drexel and Ryan are actually identical twins who were separated at birth when their depression-era natural parents (Brian Geraghty and Amanda Crew) realized they couldn’t afford to raise both children.  Out of love for both sons, the couple decided to ask the itinerant Rev. Reece Wade and his wife Louise (Ashley Judd) — who ached for a child of their own — to adopt one of them. The two boys were then raised as only children — neither knowing of the other’s existence.

The story is actually a creative re-imagining of the life of Elvis Presley — whose real-life twin brother was actually stillborn — making the casting of Rayne, a real-life Elvis impersonator in his very first acting role, all the more inspired. The thing is though, Rayne actually can act and has a magnetic screen presence all his own. Like Ryan Wade, he’s more than just an imitation of a talent. He IS a talent who manages to hold his own, even opposite Ray Liotta with him he shares some very intense and emotional scenes.

And, speaking of Liotta, his performance is really worthy of an Oscar nomination. In Reece Wade he creates a flesh-and-blood character that is both stern and compassionate. His preacher is neither the backward-thinking bigot conjured up in so many Hollywood movies nor the near-perfect paragon of wisdom often portrayed in faith-based films. Wade is, basically, a good man who is struggling to do the right thing even as he makes mistakes along the way.

Ashley Judd’s fine, subtle performance as both Reece’s understanding wife and Ryan’s understanding mother adds an extra layer of heart to the saga. Erin Cottrell, perhaps best known for her role as as Missy in Michael Landon Jr.’s Love Comes Softly, also is quite good as Jenny O’Brien, the love of Ryan’s life.

Among the rest of the top-notch cast are Seth Green as Ryan’s band buddy Dino and Joe Pantoliano as Avi, a likable mechanic Ryan works for before catching his big break.

While some faith-based movies can be seen as sometimes pale imitations of their more secular counterparts (i.e. Persecuted and The Fugitive), thanks to a compelling, thoughtful script by Howard Klausner (The Last Ride), The Identical is an original. His parable of forgiveness and being true to who your are  is enhanced by a very capable cast, the visual creativity of first-time director Dustin Marcellino and some great original music (which, of course, can be heard via a soundtrack album). The Identical is Highly Recommended.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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