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Breakthrough: Movie Review

Chris Carpenter


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With a commitment to uplifting people through entertainment, film producer DeVon Franklin certainly has developed a reputation for crafting faith-based cinema with a nod to the miraculous.

From the dramatic rescue that restored a family in Miracles from Heaven to the rambunctious re-telling of the greatest story ever told in The Star, Franklin knows a thing or two about miraculous storytelling.

Now comes his latest release, Breakthrough, based on the amazing true story of a mother refusing to give up on her son despite seemingly insurmountable medical odds.

Starring Chrissy Metz (This is Us), Topher Grace (Spiderman 3), Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama), and Dennis Haysbert (Far from Heaven), the movie is directed by television veteran Roxann Dawson (Star Trek: Voyager), who is making her feature film debut.


Adopted as an infant by loving but sometimes overbearing parents Joyce and Brian Smith, 14-year-old John Smith is having a difficult time processing who he really is.  While he seemingly has a great life fueled by his love for basketball, good music, and close friends, something is missing.  His longing for identity has created more then a few tension filled moments with his parents. It takes a tragedy to ultimately help them find the common ground they so desperately need.

When John falls through the ice into a bitterly cold Missouri lake, he remains beneath the surface for more than 15 minutes.  Without a pulse and his body temperature dropping quickly, life has all but slipped away from John.  But as he lies lifeless, Joyce refuses to give up.  Leaning heavily on her all-encompassing belief in a loving God, she inspires others around her to pray for her son’s recovery.  Joyce’s unrequited love for God and family serve as a helpful reminder that faith and unbridled hope can create a miracle.


With good performances throughout from a veteran cast, Metz shines as Joyce Smith, a woman who believes that all things are possible through faith in God.  Dawson certainly knows how to get the best from the actress best known for her role in the television series This is UsMetz is a force of nature in the film as she delivers in scene after scene.

For his part, Haysbert is superb in his role as the world-renowned physician leading John’s recovery team.  Respectful of science and the medical odds of survival, the Hollywood veteran does a commendable job of balancing the family’s faith-infused hope and the sobering expectation of John’s chances.

Lucas and Grace provide a nice counter balance to each other in the movie.  Lucas as the highly concerned, understated father juxtaposed against Grace’s brash, hipster family pastor who initially irritates Joyce mightily but eventually gains her favor.  And while the dynamics between Grace’s character and the Smith family seem a bit over the top and contrived at times, they ultimately prove worthy in the end.

Best known for her television directing work on Crossing Jordan and Star Trek: Enterprise, Dawson utilizes effective dialogue and an honest treatment of prayer’s power to capture the true essence of this modern day miracle.

Especially pleasing is that Breakthrough doesn’t fall into the trap of being a faith-based movie that has a cookie-cutter happy ending.  While being delivered from certain death is certainly a joyous occasion by all accounts, the film is unafraid to show the sometimes-difficult backlash John Smith faced from teachers and students in the months following his return to normal life.

The only place where the movie really falters is the strained, overdramatic scene of a choir of people standing outside John’s hospital room window to perform a stylized version of a praise and worship song accompanied by a full band.  However, there is only one problem.  There is no band to be found.  Also, a scene featuring Metz making peace with God on the hospital’s rooftop seems just too perfect as the snowflakes fall gently around her.


Even though it is predictable at times, Breakthrough will appeal to both faith-based and general audiences.  The blend of a tremendously inspiring true story, great casting, and performances that draw skillfully on emotion and heart make this a highly compelling movie. Breakthrough provides an exhilarating reminder that faith and undeniable hope can move mountains and in this case defy science.

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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