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

A grieving Mack Phillips comes face to face with manifestations of God in The Shack based on the bestselling novel by William P. Young.  Starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Avraham Aviv Alush, Sumire Matsubara, Graham Greene, Alice Braga, Radha Mitchell, Amélie Eve, Megan Charpentier, Gage Munroe and Tim McGraw. Directed by Stuart Hazeldine. Screenplay by John Fusco, Andrew Lanham and Destin Cretton.

Synopsis (from the film’s website): Based on the New York Times best-selling novel, The Shack takes us on a father’s uplifting spiritual journey. After suffering a family tragedy, Mack Phillips [Sam Worthington] spirals into a deep depression causing him to question his innermost beliefs. Facing a crisis of faith, he receives a mysterious letter urging him to an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Despite his doubts, Mack journeys to the shack and encounters an enigmatic trio of strangers led by a woman named Papa [Octavia Spencer]. Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever.

Review: The Shack builds a strong message of hope and forgiveness. I was at the red-carpet premiere in New York on Tuesday to preview the phenomenally popular faith-themed novel by William Paul Young.  The film hits general release today (3/3) and if you’re looking for a bit of calming shelter from a winter and/or life storm, you might want to check in.

Fresh off her Academy Award-nomination for Hidden Figures, Octavia Spencer plays God (aka Papa) — or at least one manifestation of the Creator. Other diverse manifestations are portrayed by Israeli actor Avraham Aviv Alush, Japanese actress Sumire Matsubara (God’s Spirit) and Graham Greene (as a male expression of Papa). Brazilian actress Alice Braga plays Wisdom, an attribute of God. The subtle — and good — message seems to be that God is all of us, regardless of what particular “tribe” we belong to here on Earth.

Structurally, The Shack passes muster as a screenplay — building on the core idea that God loves forgives us all and will never abandon us. Kindness, forgiveness and trust in God are presented as touchstones on the universal pathway to peace and happiness.

Sam Worthington, a rising actor, best known for his roles in the Avatar franchise and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, gets to stretch his acting chops and demonstrate why he is an actor to watch.  He has real presence in the role of Mack Phillips, a man who is struggling to keep it all together following the horrific murder of his youngest daughter. He effectively brings us along on his character’s inner journey.

Director Stuart Hazeldine shows respect for his material and the faith paradigm it puts forth. True, the film sometimes takes on the feel of a big screen version of Touched by an Angel but, on the other hand, now there’s an idea! Touched had it critics, but it ran for roughly a decade on CBS by spinning faith-themed stories in a way that also managed to bring in the broader audience. I believe The Shack has the same breakout potential.

Bottom line: Highly recommended.

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


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