Luke Mackenzie remains steadfast in his faith, although his family is tested with trials that would tear most families apart. His eldest son, Jacob, sets out on his own only to find his father waiting with open arms on his return.
Grace of the Father is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, minus the jealous older brother who is just as misguided as the son who gets a premature inheritance and squanders it. It’s what Jesus’s parable from Luke 15:11-32 might look like if it took place on a farm in North Dakota before taking a left turn to Florida and a sharp right to Las Vegas.
Luke Mackenzie (Darren Dowler) is the father who works as a horse breeder for a ranch in Fargo, North Dakota. There are issues with the ranch’s owners that seem more like scenes from J.R. Ewing’s Dallas, but that’s how we meet Luke and his idyllic family of five. The turning point is when North Dakota gets hit by a surprise snowstorm known as a Blue Norther. As long as you don’t ask how anybody in North Dakota ever gets surprised by snow, you’ll be okay accepting anything else that follows.
But, the story needs a turning point to set things in motion: Luke’s wife, Kelley (Elizabeth Corbett), dies in an auto accident trying to drive home in the blizzard from her nursing job, and his family’s lives are thrown into disarray when the prized horses on the ranch freeze to death. Luke is fired, either for being staggeringly unprepared for the arctic hazards of bordering Canada or for the fact that dead horses make for terrible studs. Regardless of the reasons, his services are no longer required.
That forces the survivors to move to Florida, where you can more legitimately be surprised by a blizzard. Luke is determined to begin anew with his own ranch but 17-year-old son Jacob (Ryan Carter) grows increasingly dissatisfied with life and wants to take his quarter share of the $200,000 death benefit. As soon as he turns 18, he’s out the door, on the road to Las Vegas with a friend. Youthful naivete is perfectly captured when they plan to “take the 50 Gs and parlay it into a half-million in a week.” Casinos thrive by crushing such pipe dreams and spitting out the dreamers before lunch.
That’s exactly what happens, but Jacob gets the most Christian help ever from the most trusting single woman on the planet. Her name is Edie (Sallie Glaner), and she used to be a woman of the night, but apparently has come to faith and goes to the casinos as her mission field. Though he follows her home, she lets him in, leaves him in the room with her purse full of money and a book titled “Coming Home is Easy.” Overnight, he reads the entire paperback and comes to his senses, deciding that homeless gambler is a bad career choice. We can read between the lines and see why Edie might have a soft spot for Jacob, giving him money as she leaves for work the next morning, telling him to lock up when he leaves. Instead of returning to the Strip to gamble it away, Jacob returns home, where his father runs to greet him. The end.
Despite cutting corners in a few places, the movie emphasizes faith in God amid tragic circumstances. Luke has nothing else to hold on to, and his other children help him. Isaac (David Carleton), the older brother, isn’t nearly as hard-hearted as the older brother in Jesus’s parable, and there’s a horse-adoring daughter, Aurora (Isabel Myers), with faith beyond her years. Through the lens of a movie maker who is laser-focused on showing the love of God, Grace of the Father merits the Dove-Approved Seal for All Ages for its attempts to remain faithful to essentials of the story.
The Dove Take:
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is retold in a 21st-century setting, with slight modifications that do no harm to the love that a father has for his wayward son who comes to his senses.