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I Can Only Imagine: Movie Review

Chris Carpenter


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Never in a million years did MercyMe’s Bart Millard  think that a major motion picture would be made about his life.  But that is exactly what has happened. The product of a highly abusive childhood, he finally fled home shortly after high school to seek a better life.  Amazingly, God not only sustained Bart through this ordeal but also gave him a platform to write and record the most-played Christian single in history.

I Can Only Imagine is a new full-length motion picture chronicling the life of the MercyMe front man whose song of hope and reconciliation has helped millions find healing in their lives. 

Directed by Jon and Andy Erwin (Woodlawn, Mom’s Night Out), the movie stars J. Michael Finley, Madeline Carroll (The Magic of Belle Isle), and Dennis Quaid (Frequency, In Good Company) in a role that will not soon be forgotten.


Bart Millard is a young boy who loves life.  From riding his bike while listening to his favorite music on his Walkman to laughing with his friends, he seems like any other typical kid.  But there is another side to Bart’s life, a dark one, that he would prefer people to not know about.  He has a very troubled home life.  So troubled that his mother eventually flees the family, leaving young Bart to spend his adolescent and teen years living in fear of his explosively angry father. 

Seeking to win his father’s approval, Bart turns to football in attempt to mend their relationship and curb the abuse. Never good enough in his father’s eyes, Bart’s quest for gridiron glory soon ends with a career ending injury.  But it is this medical mishap coupled with a teacher who sees unlimited musical potential in him that ultimately changes the course of his life.

With music now his dream, Bart hits the road with his band MercyMe in hopes of landing a coveted recording contract.  He quickly discovers that nothing in life comes easy, especially breaking into the music business.  He considers giving up.  But what Bart doesn’t realize is that he has embarked on a journey that he never could have imagined … literally.


In what may be one the best roles of his long Hollywood career, Quaid delivers a truly riveting performance in I Can Only Imagine.  Portraying Bart’s abusive, alcoholic father Arthur, Quaid is the engine that ultimately drives this movie.  He demonstrates an uncanny ability to shift from rage to a man transformed by faith seamlessly.

Finley, a Broadway actor, does a terrific job of balancing Quaid’s fury in his movie debut as Bart.  Embodying the likeable, everyman qualities that MercyMe’s lead vocalist has demonstrated for years onstage Finley also handles the musical demands of his role with ease. 

In her role as the high school teacher who encourages Bart to pursue music, Priscilla Shirer further proves that she is an actress with real ability.  Her debut in War Room was no fluke.   The theatrical future for this popular author and conference speaker seems bright.

While I Can Only Imagine certainly has its flaws, this may be the Erwin Bros. best movie to date.  For as entertaining as Woodlawn and Mom’s Night Out were, the siblings who got their start as sports cameramen seem to be hitting their stride as filmmakers.  The script is slightly above average but it is the Erwin’s’ ability to bring life to these broken relationships that make it a poignant illustration of how powerful forgiveness can be.

The only real drawback to the movie is that its timeline of events doesn’t always match up with the chronological progression of Bart’s life.  Also, in reality he has a brother.  Where is he?  It seems that his only sibling was just conveniently left out of the film to make the story flow better.


Filled with valuable lessons of perseverance, reconciliation, and the healing power of forgiveness, I Can Only Imagine is a hard movie not to like.  It’s not only a must-see for Christian music fans but speaks to anyone who has ever struggled with loss, depression, or the willingness go on. 

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About The Author


Chris Carpenter is the program director for, the official website of the Christian Broadcasting Network. He also serves as executive producer for myCBN Weekend, an Internet exclusive webcast show seen on In addition to his regular duties, Chris writes extensively for the website. Over the years, he has interviewed many notable entertainers, athletes, and politicians including Oscar winners Matthew McConaughy and Reese Witherspoon, evangelist Franklin Graham, author Max Lucado, Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy and former presidential hopefuls Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Mike