Reading a romance novel can be an enrapturing adventure. It’s an independent experience of imagination that often allows the reader to turn off their brain and give into pure fantasy. Of course, Hollywood has spent decades working to bring this kind of emotion-heavy drama to the big screen, through bestselling phenomena across the board from classic Jane Austen adaptations to Twilight and Netflix’s Bridgerton. Now a part of this ever-expanding genre is director D.J. Caruso’s Redeeming Love , based on the 1991 book of the same name by author Francine Rivers – and this one in particular magnifies why some stories are better kept on the page than brought to theaters.
Redeeming Love is loosely inspired by The Bible’s Book of Hosea, the narrative transplanted to take place in the 1850s amid the California Gold Rush. The screenplay was co-written by Francine Rivers and D.J. Caruso – a surprising voice behind the material given his thriller-heavy filmography including films such as Disturbia, Taking Lives and Eagle Eye. This is not to say that the director cannot take on a sweeping romance, but Redeeming Love is not anywhere close to one.
Redeeming Love is not only incredibly boring, it’s void of allure.
Redeeming Love introduces us to Angel, a woman who was sold into prostitution as a child, and as she has grown into adulthood she has gotten used to be looked at as a commodity. This is until she meets Michael Hosea, who falls in love with her at first sight and vows to cherish her for the woman she is and to marry her in a “taking her away from all this”-type gesture. The way in which this couple’s story unfolds feels incredibly stiff, and it operates in a way that both takes away the power from the female protagonist throughout the film, and also lacks enough depth to allow audiences to buy into why Michael is the one at the center of the narrative and deserves our (and her) attention.
There are a lot of subpar romance concepts out there, but if the pair at the center of the material can develop some electricity, we’re at least halfway there. Unfortunately, Redeeming Love can never shed its awkward aura. It’s not to the fault of its talented actors Abigail Cowen and Tom Lewis, who star in the movie as protagonists Angel and Michael Hosea, respectively. The dynamic is handled poorly through the script, and a proper investment in their relationship is not going to be formed beyond one’s familiarity with the source material. In the film adaptation best-selling novel, there is not a nugget of charm to be found.
An interesting cast of characters is introduced, but not properly explored.
Aside from its core couple, there are a number of other storylines that don’t flow in Redeeming Love. At the same time we’re getting to know Angel and Michael Hosea, there are a number of flashbacks to Angel’s past that delve into how she was sold into prostitution. These non-linear moments delving into the female lead’s past bring some flavor to Redeeming Love and strengthen the story overall, but it feels like there are gaps and a flightiness in the storytelling.
The antagonists in Redeeming Love include Eric Dane’s Duke and Famke Janssen’s Duchess. Each talented actor had a potentially interesting arc to work with, but the actual execution of the film gives the audience very little to chew on and they end up coming out as flat, one-dimensional characters. It’s indicative of a larger issue in the film, as it feels incredibly forgettable because while there is a lot being put forward in the story as far as narrative elements and details, it’s not put together in a way that makes the audience remotely care or feel engaged with the story or principal players.
It’s another adaptation that’s too overwhelmed with its source material to flourish.
Overall, the problem with Redeeming Love seems to be how poorly it was adapted from book to screen. Book adaptations work the best when there’s a distinct vision being created that can allow for a story to live in live-action in a different way than it breathed on the page – but that is not something that is ultimately accomplished here.
It’s is an adaptation that may still vaguely work for big fans of the book who read it and want to specifically see some of their favorite lines and moments from the novel on screen – but mostly Redeeming Love completely falls apart as a movie. It’s disjointed, it’s dull, and, most of all, it’s not at all a passionate love affair a movie like this should be.