This true-life story of friendship overcoming racial and class divides transcends the heavy-handed nature of most faith-based movies through some impressively gritty writing and strong performances from its four leads, each of whom are Oscar nominees or winners.
Ever since the massive success of “The Passion of the Christ,” Hollywood studios have been awakened to the fact that there is a huge Christian or “faith-based” market eager to enjoy a night out at the movies. In the years since, the frequency of Christian-themed films has greatly increased, often resulting in surprisingly big hits such as 2014’s “Heaven Is For Real,” which grossed $90 million.
Seeing “Heaven” make such a splash at the box office inspired its star, Greg Kinnear, to find another meaningful movie to star in, and this weekend’s “Same Kind of Different As Me” bears an even more impressive cast than his earlier hit. Thankfully, it also steers clear of over-the-top sermonizing that can be found in shlock like “God’s Not Dead,” making this a good movie to see on a date rather than feeling like an extra dose of church on the weekend.
The film is based on the true story of international art dealer Ron Hall (Kinnear), who befriended a homeless man named Denver (Djimon Hounsou) in the hopes of saving his struggling marriage to his wife, Debbie (Renée Zellweger).
Based on the best-selling book of the same name, “Same” uses its unlikely core story of friendship and redemption to tell a story that is an extremely timely balm to our racially divided times. Ron Hall is a guy living the high life with a wife and two kids in a spacious home, when his wife Debbie busts him for having an affair during their 19th year of marriage.
Ron replies that they haven’t had any passion for nearly a decade, but Debbie is willing to forgive him and take another chance on their marriage by asking him to join her in working at a homeless mission. While dishing out food to the poor, an angry man named Denver storms in with a baseball bat and angrily trashes the cafeteria— but Debbie defuses the situation and earns his respect and friendship by confronting him with firm politeness.
Denver haunts Debbie later that night, as she realizes he’s been appearing for weeks in her dreams. Seeking him out on the streets, she pays extra attention to him and encourages Ron to do the same. As Denver gets to know them better, his tragic life story shakes Ron to his core and establishes a bond between the men that changes the wealthy man’s worldview.
“Same” boasts impressive performances from its lead trio, who each have Oscar nominations or wins to their credit—Kinnear a Supporting Actor nomination for “As Good as It Gets,” Zellweger a win for “Cold Mountain,” and Hounsou twice nominated for “Amistad” and “Blood Diamond.” Working with another Oscar winner, former Best Actor recipient Jon Voight, they provide the film an instant credibility that many other faith-based films lack due to their low budgets and unknown actors.
Zellweger and Hounsou are especially touching, and it’s refreshing to see her back in full force after inexplicably taking most of the decade off from the screen. As Denver, Hounsou has to walk a fine line to avoid falling into the timeworn movie cliché of the Wise Black Man (that’s a nicer way of putting a longtime movie trope), but invests some real power in both his occasional outbursts and more frequent thoughtful brooding.
The movie does have one glaring and bizarre weak spot that hampers it at times: its sense of timeframe. While the main story takes place in the present day, when Hounsou’s Denver shares his childhood stories in narrated flashbacks that show him talking about his childhood working on a plantation picking cotton and getting terrorized by hooded Klansmen. Unless Hounsou is playing a character way beyond his actual age, the effect is highly distracting, but ultimately can be overlooked when considered as a small part of a beautiful overall message.
Aside from that, the movie occasionally plods, but those who are eager to see a movie with meaning about nice people who don’t blow each other up with superheroic weapons should find its thoughtful pace to be a bonus.
“Same Kind of Different As Me” is different than most of the movies at the box office right now, and worth paying a visit if you’re looking for something to make you feel good about humanity in this utterly insane era we’re living in.