Pleasing God, Making Disciples of Jesus Christ

Breakthrough: Movie Review

Breakthrough is a Christian drama based on the remarkable true story about a mother clinging to faith as her adoptive son manages to survive falling into an icy lake and spending more than 15 minutes underwater. You know pretty much what to expect based on that description alone. But don’t overlook how unique this movie is amid the current cinematic landscape.

From 2019 so far, I have noticed only a few other flicks – such as the Aladdin remake, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, The Kid Who Would Be King, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, and, last but not least, Toy Story 4 – that I would recommend for parents and children to view together. What is more, Breakthrough happens to stand out from those other titles by qualifying as a drama and specifically targeting Christian viewers.

The uniqueness going for Breakthrough would mean little if it weren’t, well, a good movie, but fortunately it is just that. Not only is it a solid piece of filmmaking, but its worldview boasts considerably redemptive and biblical value. As some general info: Breakthrough was released in theaters last April and became available for home entertainment last July. It wasn’t a major hit at the box office, but it was profitable, gaining $50 million on a production budget of $14 million.

The plot begins with mother Joyce Smith facing new concerns in her life. For one thing, she finds herself clashing with her church’s new pastor Jason Noble in terms of approaches to ministry. More significantly, her teenage son John (whom she and her husband Brian adopted from Guatemala) is becoming distant and rebellious toward her. Everything turns upside down when the boy falls through ice while hanging out with friends on a frozen lake. Although he manages to survive the incident, he ends up in a coma that could leave him neurologically impaired. Joyce and many others soon recognize that faith and prayer will be essential as they hope for John to recover against the odds.

The Filmmaking

Breakthrough is directed by Roxann Dawson, written by Grant Nieporte, and adapted from the non-fiction book The Impossible by Joyce Smith and Ginger Kolbaba. I admire the honesty and realism that the filmmakers bring to the relationship between Joyce and John, both before his ordeal and when the two get to grow closer afterwards. I’m also glad that Joyce has a nice arc in which she learns to be more flexible and less demanding toward others, rather than just being a positive example of faith for others to follow.

Kudos to the cast for delivering strong performances all around. Chrissy Metz anchors the movie effectively with her performance as the feisty but spiritually driven Joyce. Thanks to both the actress and the writing, this character is bound to incite empathy from many Christian moms. Marcel Ruiz, who was 14 during production, gives an impressive turn for his age as John. For that matter, Ruiz handles his scenes well enough so that we feel emotionally invested toward the son even as that character is unconscious for the most of the film.

Some viewers might find Zoran Popovic’s cinematography to be rather much on the sunny and pristine side, considering the fact-based, high-stakes topic at hand. Nonetheless, his work nicely supports the hopeful and warmhearted tone. I’m relieved to say the script and the atmosphere always have sufficient believability to keep this film from turning into a Hallmark production. Plus, the inspirational and gripping nature of its true story gives Breakthrough more potential than most other Christian movies to resonate beyond the faith community.

The Worldview

As Breakthrough depicts the real-life story, we witness God’s gracious and faithful sovereignty on overwhelming display. We’re struck by the number of people (including firemen, police officers, doctors, nurses, and church members) whom he arranges to contribute to John’s miraculous survival and recovery. What is more, he uses that event to beautifully draw people together, improve and strengthen relationships, and positively impact the worldviews of many.

All in all, the film strikingly illustrates the reality of Romans 8:28, which reads, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” And, of course, this story is quite a testament to the power of prayer. Several scenes bring to life the principle behind group intercessions as found in Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

In its own way, Breakthrough celebrates the sanctity of human life as can be said for the pro-life drama Unplanned, another Christian movie released last spring. (Parents should know that Breakthrough is definitely more family-friendly than Unplanned, despite both having biblical and redemptive worldviews. But that’s a discussion for another article.)

A few caveats with Breakthrough’s content: The movie surprisingly contains two instances of the h-word, in addition to three instances of people using the Lord’s name in vain. Also, especially conservative believers might object to the character Pastor Jason having a hip and casual approach to ministry so as to make church more appealing to youths. (For example, he’s in favor of his congregation’s worship team including a rapper.)


I won’t claim this movie is a “breakthrough” per se for Christian cinema. (I couldn’t resist…) However, I believe it definitely ranks with titles like The Case for Christ, I Can Only Imagine, and Risen as one of the better Christian movies to come out in recent years. It’s an inspiring, likeable, and thoroughly engaging movie that prompts us to cherish and pray for those we love, as well as to recognize God’s wisdom, benevolence, and sovereignty amid all manner of circumstances. In short, Breakthrough is probably the best that 2019 has to offer in terms of well-made, family-friendly filmmaking with a Christian worldview.

Note: Breakthrough is available for viewing on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as through streaming on Amazon. This movie is produced by 20th Century Fox and happens to be one of the first that Disney has distributed since acquiring that studio. As such, Breakthrough might become available (along with other family-appropriate Fox titles, like The Kid Who Would Be King, The Peanuts Movie,and The Sound of Music) on the upcoming streaming service Disney+, which will launch on November 12th.