Reviewed by Fiorella: Voiceless
Posted by Fiorella Nash on 12 May 2017
There are few sounds that make my heart sink more deeply than a pro-life DVD dropping onto my doormat. I have sat through so many cringeworthy efforts to convert the world through film, that with one or two notable exceptions, I run a mile from any film billed as ‘pro-life.’ Almost inevitably, the production values will be clunky, the actors will be amateurs, the script cliched or the whole premise of the film so blatantly propagandist as to annoy even a convinced pro-life campaigner.
It is fair to say then that I watched Voiceless with sceptical eyes. Or rather, started watching the film with sceptical eyes. Ten minutes in, I had forgotten to be sceptical because I was so drawn into the gritty human drama unfolding before me. The story involves a young man, Jesse Dean, recently discharged from the army, starting a new job as an outreach worker at his father-in-law’s church. The church’s congregation is ageing and dwindling, with the pastor increasingly desperate to turn things around. The young couple are not without problems of their own; there are clearly tensions in their marriage and Jesse is seen receiving therapy for a traumatic incident in Afghanistan that has left him psychologically scarred. Jesse has plans to engage with young people and starts a boxing club in an old storage room, but his comfortable strategies are thrown into disarray when he notices the presence of an abortion facility across the street from the church.
A realistic tale
What makes the film so engaging is the all-too-familiar scenario of the lukewarm Christian community and the very real characters that come to the fore as the story develops. The prayer meeting where the subject of the abortion facility is raised is particularly painful to watch, with the predictable stream of excuses coming out almost on cue - but some women in the congregation may have had abortions, we'll drive people away, we should be spreading the Gospel not getting involved in politics, you know the clinic does some good work, have you heard about those horrible protesters who harass women... Furthermore, the film avoids falling into the trap of creating impossibly dramatic situations. There are several very distressing and violent moments in the film but at no point does the film descend into sensationalism. The threats to the hero's livelihood and liberty are consistent with what genuinely does happen to campaigners who find themselves at odds with the management of abortion facilities and who refuse to back down.
The only unfortunate flaw was the elderly Scottish woman who forms the voice of conscience throughout the film and very much appears to epitomise Old World protestant values. She is an excellent character, at times both inspiring and comical, but she is no more a Scot than Dick Van Dyke was a cockney chimney sweep. Her accent is so off-putting that her early scenes lost much of their power for me because I was too busy trying to guess where precisely on God's earth she is supposed to come from. It is a pity because in every other way, the old lady's no-nonsense attitude to life acts as the perfect foil to the young couple's struggles and uncertainty.
The only note of caution that needs to be raised is that this is not a film that will appeal or work with every audience. It clearly has a very specific purpose – to appeal to evangelical communities to wake up, stand up to be counted and work to end abortion. The film is unlikely to cut much ice with secular audiences and may have limited success among other religious communities. However, when it comes to connecting with and inspiring insipid congregations who continue to shy away from controversy, I cannot think of a more persuasive or powerful film to perform such a mission.