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'Redeeming Love' movie review: Big screen adaptation of beloved Christian romance falls flat

Redeeming Love
Photo of Abigail Cowen as “Angel” in the motion picture “Redeeming Love.” |

In the ’90s and early 2000s, Francine Rivers’ novel Redeeming Love took the Christian world by storm. Her modern retelling of the biblical account of the Hosea and his wayward wife, Gomer, sold 3 million copies and garnered hoards of loyal fans, not coincidentally at the height of purity culture.

Now, the book is hitting the big screen in a Universal Pictures film adaptation starring Abigail Cowen, Nina Dobrev, Tom Lewis and Eric Dane. The film is directed by DJ Caruso and produced by Roma Downey (“The Bible”) and Cindy Bond (“I Can Only Imagine”).

“Redeeming Love” opens in gold rush-era California, where disheveled men scrounge for gold in murky water before heading to Pair-o-Dice, where a cold woman known as “the Duchess” runs a brothel. There, the most sought-after prostitute is a young woman named Angel. Beautiful and flaxen-haired, Angel draws crowds of swarming men eager to receive her services.

One particular man who spots Angel as she walks down the street, flanked by her towering bodyguard, is Michael Hosea. A soft-spoken, doe-eyed farmer, Michael is confident that God has appointed Angel to be his bride, the one he has waited for and prayed over. Though confused by God’s choice for him, Michael nevertheless decides to act in obedience and pursues Angel despite her reputation. 

Through a series of flashbacks, viewers learn Angel’s heartbreaking story.

Named Sarah, she was born out of wedlock in New England to her mother, Mae (Dobrev), and a married businessman, Alex (Josh Taylor). Afraid his reputation would be ruined should news of his infidelity come out, Alex rejects Sarah and cuts Mae off financially, forcing her to engage in a life of prostitution at the docks to make ends meet.

It’s not long before Mae dies. And an orphaned Sarah symbolically throws her mother’s cross necklace into the ocean, rejecting the faith her mother claimed. 

What follows is nothing short of a nightmare.

With nowhere to go, she finds herself trafficked by an Irish nobleman, “the Duke,” who sexually abuses her from a young age. Now known as “Angel,” she escapes the Duke’s clutches with the help of an older prostitute — who pays dearly for her efforts.

But after heading West, Angel once again finds herself in prostitution after being robbed of her earthly goods. But this time, a savior is waiting in the wings. 

Michael pays top-dollar to see Angel, using his hard-earned gold to spend 30 minutes simply talking to her. Though she parades in front of him naked, Michael refuses her advances, repeatedly telling her that she’s going to marry him. 

“We can’t do this yet,” he tells her as she attempts to seduce him. “We should wait until it means something to you.”

Michael continues to visit her until she becomes frustrated.

“I feel nothing for you,” she tells him. “You’re a dirt farmer.” 

Defeated, Michael returns home. But after Angel is brutally beaten by the brothel’s bodyguard, Michael travels to Pair-o-Dice and purchases the bloodied woman from the Duchess. He brings her home to his farm in an emotionally-charged scene. 

Michael tends to Angel as she recovers, and she agrees, begrudgingly, to marry him. But despite her new environment, Angel can’t shake her past — and abandons Michael on three occasions, leaving her wedding ring on the dresser. Though hurt, Michael continues to pursue Angel and offers her the choice to either stay with him or run away again.

Ultimately, Michael’s persistence and unfaltering faithfulness soften Angel’s heart. Although it was a grueling process, she eventually finds her self-worth, prompting her to forgive herself and champion other women involved in sex work. 

While the film is light on Scripture references, “Redeeming Love” is a clear retelling of Hosea 1-3.

In those passages, God instructs the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer. God tells Hosea that Gomer will continue to return to prostitution, yet he’s to forgive and love her, regardless of what she does.

Hosea’s story is beautiful, serving as a reminder of God’s unconditional love for His children and pursuit of them despite their disobedience. 

But the story — and the nuances of the biblical account of Hosea — don’t easily translate to the big screen.

Rated PG-13, “Redeeming Love” tries hard to deal gently with tough topics, but there’s no way to sugarcoat prostitution, sex trafficking, murder and incest. The film is rife with themes of redemption, forgiveness, unconditional love and mercy, but viewers will want to proceed with caution.

The sexual content in “Redeeming Love” is explicit.

Angel appears partially naked on several occasions, covered only by her hair and drapery. There are several sex scenes in the film, two between Michael and Angel, and others are referenced. Euphemisms for sex are littered throughout the movie, while prostitutes wear revealing outfits. It’s implied that the Duke repeatedly rapes Angel as a child — and disturbingly, she’s not his only young victim. 

The film also contains violence. In one instance, Angel watches as her caregiver is strangled, and she is also physically harmed by men on several occasions. Angels’ estranged father dies by suicide after discovering he’s had sex with her, and two men are shown hanging from the gallows. Vulgar language is also littered throughout the film.

Rivers was heavily involved in the film adaptation of her book, and she previously spoke to The Christian Post about her heart for the film. “I want people to see that no matter what’s been done to us or the sins we commit, God loves us and offers us new life through Jesus,” she said. 

The film’s redemptive and biblical themes are evident, but they are all too often overshadowed by explicit, sometimes unnecessary content that may not sit well with some Christian viewers. Though fans of Rivers’ novel will likely find the film nostalgic, conscientious viewers would do well to pass. 

“Redeeming Love” hit theaters on Jan 21.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: leah.klett@christianpost.com

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