I’m Not Ashamed is not quite as bad as you’d think. That sounds like faint praise, and it undoubtably is, but it’s also a classic example of when the movie envisioned in your head is a lot worse than the movie you end up seeing. Based on the life of Rachel Scott, one of the 12 student victims of the Columbine shootings targeted based on her religious beliefs, and produced by PureFlix, the Christian filmmaking banner behind God Not’s Dead 1 & 2, you’re right to assume this is going to be a rigorous exercise in bad taste, artistic manipulation and evangelical propaganda.
Its very existence is surely going to leave a bad taste in a lot of viewers’ mouths, and the ones with tickets in hand lining up to the door will already have their opinions made before seeing a single frame. I know this one to be true based on the crowd I saw it with, who were practically ready to give it a standing ovation at the opening credits. But for all its poor judgement and seemingly crude intentions, there is a beating heart at the center, one that would be arrogant to ignore or put down offhandedly.
The key is Masey McLain, the actress portraying Scott, who is a blossoming ray of sunshine across murky waters. Her warm presence, matched by her genuine sorrow and well-grounded sincerity, gives life to an otherwise shallow, ill-minded motion picture. The sweetness she brings never feels ill-gained or misinformed. There’s a real humanity to her Rachel Scott, and that, in turn, makes I’m Not Ashamed seem more righteous and goodhearted in its intentions. We might not agree with the film’s politics (or, at least, I don’t completely agree with them), but I felt for McLain’s performance, a truly great piece of character work in a film with an unsubtle agenda. If you ever wanted to know if a really good performance can save a poor film with undefined direction from Brian Baugh (To Save A Life), awkward writing from Philipa Booyens, Robin Hanley, Kari Redmond and Bodie Thoene, and bland supporting characters, this movie makes a pretty good case, if not an entirely convincing one.
There are some truly affecting moments in I’m Not Ashamed, and it’s easily the most accomplished PureFlix production to date. But the positives are almost always outweighed by the negatives, and that’s most apparent in the treatment of Klebold (Cory Chapman) and Harris (David Errigo Jr.), the shooters behind the tragedy. Portrayed as Neo-Nazis who love violent video games and quietly relate to Hitler in history class, in the movie’s most unintentionally humorous scene, this is where I’m Not Ashamed is at its most blandly one-dimensional and horrifically tone-deaf. I’m not suggesting they be portrayed as heroes or anything, but the film is so desperate to make Rachel look divine in comparison to these killers that they make Gollum blush in their obsessive tendencies.
Their scenes are laughable at best and aggressively insensitive at worst. It complete obliterates the movie’s message of open-minded tolerance if these characters are so fundamentally evil on paper, without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. It actively makes the film lose any real depth or honesty, and the filmmakers’ stunning refusal to look at this tragedy away from their own coincided worldview is when I’m Not Ashamed is truly at its most condescending and ugly.
But, again, I doubt the people behind I’m Not Ashamed wanted this movie to be a fair, honest account of these chilling events. The film doesn’t advocate for gun prevention, perhaps fearing that they’ll alienate their conservative-minded audiences, and it has no interest in delving into the killers’ emotional psyche, because then they would have to ask complicated questions. They don’t want to make Elephant, or Bowling for Columbine. Instead, I’m Not Ashamed means to look at one person in this complicated affair told in a rather uncomplicated manner.
As a character piece, it’s not terrible. Beyond her extreme religious beliefs, Rachel feels like a relatively well drawn-out character, primarily thanks to McLain, and that’s what makes her death hold impact, particularly in one memorial scene amongst friends/fellow students with real emotional power. In many ways, I’m Not Ashamed is irresponsible, closed-minded and poorly-conceived. One merely has to look at the trailer to see that’s the case, though. All things considered, this is an occasionally uplifting, emotionally-charged movie made under the wrong conditions. If nothing else, it proves McLain has a bright future ahead of her — at least, away from these PureFlix movies.