Movie Review: Ragamuffin

One day I will tell the behind the scenes story of what it took to get this film to Topeka but not today. Today I focus on the film.

The storyline is simple enough – the life of Rich Mullins. He is the author of the song “Awesome God” as well as hundreds of others. He was part of a resurgence of contemporary Christian music movement in the 80’s and 90’s. The film documents his struggles with his faith, addictions, and insecurities as his songs were some of the most popular in the world of contemporary Christian music.

While we are on the subject, if Awesome God is the only Rich Mullins song you know – please stop reading this and get on YouTube or something and start listening to his other music. Awesome God is not even close to being the best song he ever wrote. In fact, just go buy two albums to start with – “Never Picture Perfect” and “A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band.” These two will get you started.

I struggle what to write about the film. It’s not a “Christian” movie. I hate that term as no object in and of itself can be “Christian.” But I need to tell you that before you run off to see this film expecting a “Facing the Giants”, “Flywheel” or “Courageous” kind of movie. It’s nothing like those films. If you are looking for a nice, neat film with a simple conflict/resolution arch of a story – Ragamuffin isn’t for you.

Ragamuffin is a dark, brooding film that exposes the insecurity and grit of Rich Mullins’ faith. It’s messy. It doesn’t resolve. It’s redemptive and agonizing. All of which I think is authentic not only to Rich, but to Jesus as well.

The acting and cinematography are top shelf. The cinematography draws you into this film from the start. It’s a rich palette of colors and depth. Michael Koch who plays Rich in the film delivers an incredible performance considering that whoever played Rich would have to be able to play multiple instruments, sing, and do so while being true to Rich’s eccentric, authentic faith without pushing the performance into a sappy mess of emotion.

The film gives you this immediate sense of a journey that isn’t going to be simple or clean. Rich’s struggle with alcohol, materialism, and insecurity take center stage – some argue to much so. His dysfunctional relationship with his dad is all to familiar but what I loved about the film was there was no blaming the dad on the sins of the son. Rich’s ‘sins’ are his. He owns them. Not because of his dad or his friends but because of himself.

The film’s crucial scene is Rich coming to terms with the love of his fathers – earthly and heavenly. Both love him – this much he knows. However, neither of them love him in a way he understands or can accept. Nor do either of these fathers love in a way that is expected. Rich’s process to understand these loves and to experience them are worth the price of the movie alone.

The movie is award worthy. It’s that good. To have a great movie you must have great acting, great filming, and a great story. It’s got all three. If you are looking for something to compare it to – I’d suggest The Passion by Mel Gibson. Ragamuffin does not have near the graphic violence but the quality of the movie is on that level. Personally, I think it’s better than The Passion.

For some this movie will give to much focus to Rich’s struggles as opposed to his victories and music. For some, they will want more of his music and ministry on the Rez. I understand the critique, I just don’t think that would have been the best choice as to how to shoot the story of Rich’s life.

Mainly because I don’t think that is the kind of movie Rich would have approved. Rich loved living and ministering on the Rez but wanted no credit or attention for it. I’m pretty sure Rich wouldn’t have wanted a movie about his life in the first place but if a movie was going to be done, it would have to be uncomfortably authentic. Because that was what Rich was – uncomfortably authentic – even in his concerts. It’s what made him free to experience the full love of God. Without the authenticity, there would have been no real redemption or freedom.

That’s the whole point of Rich’s understanding of Jesus – the more masks we put on, the less of Jesus we get. I think the director David Schultz gets this and I think this is why he choose to keep the film…well…some would say “dark”, I would say authentic to the journey of a ragamuffin.

I highly recommend the movie. See if it is coming to a city near you here.

This film has not been rated yet but more than likely would have a PG-13 rating for brief, mild language, smoking, drinking, and adult situations.

Comments are closed on this review, but I posted this review and the comments on The Reviews website. You can continue the conversation there.

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39 thoughts on “Movie Review: Ragamuffin

  1. No comments yet surprises me but then again it doesn’t. I heard differing views coming out of the movie but it made me walk away wanting to wrap myself up in Him. Thank you!

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  2. Just saw this film last night at Madison Christian Church in Madison,,,, it was a film you felt. Right up there with The Passion, Schindler’s List and 12 Years A Slave as a movie that you felt exhausted from after watching. Powerful.

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    1. Right there with you, Nolan.

      It may not be a movie you WANT to see…but it is a movie that you NEED to see. Love to see this film in the theater.

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  3. Great review. I 100% agree. I went to the movie last night with a certain forboding and I left somewhat down–because I sensed the movie would capture Rich’s pathos. It did. Forboding, in that my perfect little world would be challenged. I woke up early this morning with such a clarity and immediately thought, “Yes, this movie was more draining than the Passion movie!” So your remarks more than validate. I was stunned by the high quality of the acting. As much as I highly enjoyed “Rich”. The characters playing his Dad, Mom, girlfriend and Manning delivered awesome, awesome performances. A debt of gratitude to the producers…and you.

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    1. Upon further review . . .

      It is as if Rich were a weeping prophet who incorporates the grief of followers of Jesus who see their own shortcomings, the shortcomings of the Church as an “Institution” and wonders aloud, “Does God really love me–us?” It is, in short, heart-wrenching.

      Don’t take a pre-teen with the idea that this is about a happy-go-lucky Saint Francis having a feel good time.

      By all means, see the movie . . . and rejoice in the evolving message of Abba’s unreserved love for us–ragamuffins. But be prepared to be unsettled.

      The final message is not simply that Rich got to go Home for full reconciliation. For those still here, it is about the challenge to live authentic lives of trust in the Lord–in midst of pain–being glad that God loves us.

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      1. Oh, LOL and kudos to the hired hands who play out the scene from “Brother Sun Sister Moon” movie about St. Francis, his father, and the bishop(?). I was stunned by the high quality of that short snippet–and it sure beat having to pay for the rights to show the original clip!

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      1. LOL . . . just kidding, but I wonder if the question stems from what happened in the real life of St. Francis and in the St. Francis movie: one sees St. Francis walking in the buff into the sunset, having renounced his wordly possessions.

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  4. This is a good article, but it drives me crazy when one does not know when to use the word ‘too’ rather than ‘to’. Sorry to nit pick but it happened no less than three times in the above wording and it takes away from the professionalism of the piece.

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  5. It was a really good movie and beautifully done as far as cinematography and performances. Review gets a B. Please look up the difference between “to” and “too.” Too many “to” here. 🙂

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  6. Wonderful review. I was blessed to see the movie opening night in Wichita, Kansas, where Rich lived for many years. I was in awe of the movie for hours after watching it. I must admit at one point I thought the movie was moving too slow, but overall it worked. I wondered it Rich’s struggles portrayed were accurate and asked Mitch McVicker afterwards that very question. He said “No, but that’s not the point.” I understand. The point of the movie was God’s love for us. How can you not be in awe of such perfect, magnificent love?

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  7. Overall, I thought this was a good film; gritty, emotional, and well-acted. The cinematography was terrific. My critique would be that it begins to drag after awhile. At one point, I want push pause and say, “ok, I get it. He was an struggling alcoholic who cursed and smoked and had issues…can we just move the story along a bit?” Thats a little flip but the grace of the movie was its flaw as well. Another 10-20 minutes lopped off in editing would’ve done us all a service. Overall though, while mentioning it in the same breath as “The Passion of The Christ” is a big reach, its worth seeing. Kudos to the producers/director for taking some risks.

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  8. Just wish that at the end of the movie, as they show Rich being towed off into the distance, they would have played the last song he recorded in that country church: “In My Father’s House”.

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  9. My husband & I saw the movie Sunday in DePere, WI and were impressed but also amazed at the honest portrayal of Mullins. I have loved Rich’s music since the beginning of his ministry/career. The one down-side to the movie is not knowing the timeline; the only time reference is when he is a child and when he goes to college.

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    1. I know what you mean about the time. Oddly, this seemed to match what appears to have been Rich’s not keeping track of standards. He needed time to flesh things out . . . and the length of the movie seemed to reinforce.

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  10. Some Catholic brethren are disappointed that the movie did not touch on anything about Rich’s quiet exploration of Catholicism and what would have been his eventual rite of initiation. That’s understandable, but why wouldn’t some parish pick up on the movie and show it anyway? From what I can see from the travelling schedule, none are on it. Some enterprising speaker could discuss the dynamics in a Q&A after the movie. It could be done in a way that still presents Christians as being members of the Body of Christ.

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    1. good question, John.

      Rich’s curiosity is probably the key to your answer. His desire to know and experience more of God made him so unpredictable and untamed. This would be a source of inspiration for many and a source of deep, profound frustration in others.

      Would he have eventually been initiated in Catholic church? Perhaps. Would the Catholic brethren have as much love and respect for him a few years later if he decided to leave and try something else (as was his pattern)?

      This was part of the wake Rich left behind him. Personally – I find it refreshing and inspiring but I know to well that others find it a stumbling block.

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      1. Thanks, Grant. Makes sense. He had no theological pillow (somewhat to our relief) to lay his head on. “He did not have an axe to grind; he did not tow the party line” 😉

        Makes even more sense that when I posted a comment on a Catholic-I-like-Rich website, saying the RCC might be getting a rambunctious, musical radical, my post was deleted as being “inappropriate”.

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  11. I think the movie was okay but it drug on too long. I also found it very distracting that Rich’s length of hair kept changing back-and-forth within the same time setting. It also seems like whenever his hair was a certain length he wore the same blue jeans with holes in the knees and he hardly ever wore any shoes. I guess he also drove that same jeep for years and used the same cheap cassette recorder. I also got tired of repeatedly seeing the flashbacks of the swinging light bulb from the barn. I didn’t see a whole lot of redeeming value except with some pseudo-psychological spiritual exercises with Brennan Manning out in the retreat. I did think that the actor who played Rich Mullins did a good job of acting and singing and playing musical instruments

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    1. Joe – One lightbulb emoticon to your lightbulb comment. If it wouldn’t make the movie too choppy, perhaps deleting some of that swaying would help. Better yet, since his relationship with his dad is the symbolic issue, why not start with the swaying lightbulb, then sway (segway) periodically to other wrenching scenes that accentuate the fact that the underlying human-spiritual problem causes other problems to happen? They did that fantistically once when we see his past girlfriend whistfully watch him at a concert. I didn’t quite get whether Rich saw her or not.

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      1. Of course, they did segway to the bottle of consolation more than I would have liked. Once I get the point, I get it.

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  12. The movie was described as “the True” Rich Mullins story. Yet, he was one week away from being received into the Catholic Church , and this true fact was surgically absent from the movie. Rich’s growing devotion to the Eucharist and daily mass attendance on the “rez” was not mentioned or even alluded to. Many were frustrated at Rich’s interest in Catholicism but that does not justify a story of his spiritual journey almost completely ignoring where his journey was taking him. One of his most famous concert tunes was “Screen Door on a Submarine” which proved he did not accept the doctrine of “faith alone.”, one of the foundations of the reformation. This was not in the movie. Very disappointing , and I must say I am surprised that his brother would have approved of a movie that ultimately focused on Rich’s struggles rather than a more balanced picture. He wasn’t a saint, most of us aren’t, but I didn’t need to have images of Rich rolling around on one cheap hotel mattress after another in the dark for nearly two hours to get the “true story” of Rich Mullins. The more appropriate tile would have been, Rich Mullins: The Dark Side.

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    1. I can understand the frustration of not having any of his Catholic journey in the film. However, it might be a stretch to say Rich didn’t accept the doctrine of faith alone. His embracing of the term Ragamuffin and his own struggles seem to point to the opposite.

      Besides – one can hold to a faith alone doctrine position and still expect to see fruit/results of that faith. I don’t think holding to one need to exclude the other.

      The song ‘Screen Door’ in particular – if I recall one of the many concerts I heard it at – was a slap at the CCM Industry (on multiple levels) but that’s a longer story.

      Sorry you didn’t enjoy the film.

      Just curious – IF Rich had lived, would you have been okay if he had decided to wander away from Catholicism just as he had other denominations through out his life?

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      1. Like I said – I get the frustration on leaving it out. But the director also left out his season in the Friends church as well as his season in the Brethren movement and his season in the Evangelical Free church. All of those were true to his journey as well. Instead, the director chose to focus on the relationship with Rich’s earthly dad and his Heavenly Father and to do so without naming or pointing out ANY of the traditions Rich’s explored.

        It’s a good critique of the film. In spite of that shortcoming, I was profoundly moved by the film – particularly the scene concerning the letter he had to write from the perspective of his earthly dad.

        thanks for you comments and insights!

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  13. Great hosting Grant. Good questions, Russ. I still think it’s awfully lacking in creativity that not a single RCC locale is hosting this film (correct me if I’m wrong). I was raised Catholic, and refuse to believe that an enterprising priest or lay leader could not use the film to afterward segway to the RCC aspect of Rich’s search. I would think that Jimmy Abegg or Rick Elias could be instrumental in such an approach. They could ensure that Rich is discussed in a way that honors the full Body of Christ without taking an attitude of counting coup on behalf of one part of it–or as RCCers believe, the center of it.

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  14. I’m pleased to see your review posted along with the comments. I saw the film last Friday evening at the Crossing Church in Farmington Michigan. It was very moving. The acting by all was superb; the direction was top-notch, the screenplay was beautifully composed, the cinematography was excellent. It was as fine a film as I’ve seen in a long time. I can’t compare it with The Passion of the Christ, but I will compare it with Walk the Line. Both films are bio pics of an important American musician. Ragamuffin stands up to the Johnny Cash movie very well. Walk the Line was nominated for several academy awards. Reese Witherspoon won in the Best Actress category, and I think that Michael Koch’s performance is on par with hers — his command of Mullin’s musical performance and style alone is worth the price of admission. Like Cash, Mullin’s had real problems with his dad, and the screen play captured the tragic tension very well. I too would’ve liked the filmmakers to have spent a little time exploring Rich’s increasing attraction to Roman Catholicism, but, in the end, that’s a quibbling point. Rich Mullin’s ferocious love for Christ was front stage and center. The film is unabashedly Christian. I pray that it will get as wide an audience as possible.

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  15. I was shocked at the life of Rich. But at the same time, I felt a kindred spirit towards him. I have always felt a connection with him since “awesome god” my first request on the radio. I saw him at the dandelion in Wichita. His music, his lyrics, ministered to me and continue to do so. If I stand let me stand on the promise that He will bring me through, If I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you. Laura

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