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Unsung Hero Review: Not Your Typical Faith-Based Film

A family poses for a picture with some suitcases against a green wall in the film UNSUNG HERO

Unsung Hero packs an emotional punch and avoids many pitfalls for typical faith-based films. It is held together by strong acting and a heartfelt true story.

Directors: Richard L. Ramsey & Joel Smallbone
Genre: Drama, Family, Faith
Run Time: 112′
US Release: April 26, 2024
UK Release: June 14, 2024
Where to watch: in theaters

Faith-based films are not typically masterpieces; they manage to convey religious beliefs through a dramatic narrative but severely lack true cinematic flair. Unsung Hero is not without its flaws, but it is one of the best faith-based films based on a true story. It’s packed with tension, drama, and emotion, which are all led by surprisingly strong acting.

Unsung Hero is the fascinating true story of the Smallbone family’s journey from Australia to the United States to rejuvenate David’s (Joel Smallbone of Priceless) career in the Christian music promotion business. The Smallbone family goes from lavish living to sleeping on the floor and walking to the grocery store, while David wrestles with the pressure to provide for his family and be a loving husband.

The film’s first act is its weakest point, as it attempts to balance two narratives (the Smallbones’ lives in Australia with their travels to the U.S.) and maintain a bit of intrigue. While some flashbacks are done well, most of them contribute to a feeling of whiplash between parts of a story that isn’t yet introduced. There are also some avoidable stereotypical plot devices which take away from the emotion the movie is setting up to convey. Once the story focuses on the Smallbone family’s lives in Nashville, Tennessee, the writing is far better and lends to deep connection with the main characters.

As Unsung Hero takes place in the early 1990s, it is full of nostalgic feelings and trends: the kids make home videos on a video camera and David’s music prospects are all on cassette or CD. Of course, the film has plenty of references to ‘90s Christian Contemporary Music (CCM), including Stryper, Amy Grant, and DC Talk, which satisfies nostalgic moviegoers and immerses them more into the movie’s overarching narrative about Rebecca Smallbone’s (Kirrilee Berger) introduction into the CCM world as Rebecca St. James.

A woman wears a jeans jacket and touches her belly, smiling, while sitting to a train next to a child in the film UNSUNG HERO
Daisy Betts as “Helen Smallbone” and Angus Caldwell as “Josh Smallbone” in the film UNSUNG HERO, a Lionsgate release. (Lionsgate)

A unique aspect of Unsung Hero in comparison to other faith-based films is just how sad it gets. It shows how much the Smallbone family struggles as they navigate a new country with little to no income, and documents David’s unraveling from start to finish. David’s arc is easily the most compelling. He struggles with what it means to be a good father and to rely on other people in trying times. As he reaches all time lows in his life and career, he struggles to learn humility and prioritize his family over “making it” in the music industry. Despite its poorly written moments in the beginning, Unsung Hero’s themes of charity, family, community, and faith are profoundly impactful throughout the film.

Joel Smallbone, Kirrilee Berger, and Daisy Betts give strong performances as David, Rebecca, and Helen. Smallbone’s turn is supported incredibly by a headstrong and resilient Betts as Helen, and Berger, who portrays Rebecca as a timid girl with massive musical potential. For first-time director Smallbone, Unsung Hero is a strong start with great support.

As a faith-based film, Unsung Hero is steeped in the idea of prayer. The Smallbones rely on prayer as family, and their faith shows through practically in their everyday lives. Other than that, however, the movie doesn’t share an in-your-face Christian message. While it is riddled with religious components (going to church, relying on God, and trying to make it in CCM), it is balanced very well by avoiding the desire to utilize its moment on the big screen to share an overly religious message. This is good, in my opinion. The religious elements as a core aspect of this true story are there for the taking, but the film has much more to offer to every viewer; namely, the power of friends and family, the shared feelings of hardships in life, and the will to love those closest to oneself.

Unsung Hero packs an emotional punch and avoids many pitfalls for typical faith-based films. It is not a perfect movie, but it is held together by strong performances and profoundly heartfelt second and third acts.

Unsung Hero will be released in US theaters on April 26 and in UK cinemas on June 14, 2024.

Unsung Hero: Trailer (Lionsgate)
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