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Spiritual Drama ‘Exemplum’ Delivers Nuance, Uncertainty

Compelling tale of a priest’s fall from grace offers something fresh, vital

Faith gets plenty of close-ups from Hollywood, but the stories in question are typically skin-deep.

The “Purge” franchise uses Christians as theological punching bags. “The Conjuring” films often lean on spirituality for slick scares.

Gasp! A wall full of upside-down crosses!

“Exemplum” offers something meatier for secular and faith-based audiences alike. Its protagonist’s flaws are obvious, but his journey is both fresh and inviting. You haven’t seen a story like this before, and that’s refreshing.

Writer/director Paul Roland has something profound to share in his directorial debut. Audiences able to step over some storytelling trip wires will be glad they gave “Exemplum” a chance.

Exemplum - Official Trailer

Father Colin Jacobi (Roland) knows more than your average clergyman about the digital revolution. He uses his savvy to fashion a faith-based podcast, powered by a gimmick that should be off limits given his profession.

He records presumably private confessions on old-school cassette tapes and taps them for his monologues. The gambit works, but his fame draws the attention of his superiors.

They aren’t uniformly pleased with his newfound fame, but that’s hardly Father Colin’s only problem.

His wobbly moral compass spins round and round, trying to stay ahead of his critics and a spiritual crisis.

There’s an unexpected flirtation along the way, as well as a hacking subplot that seems too convenient by half even if it spikes the film’s second half.

The drama, shot in grainy, arresting black and white, lacks the spit polish of even smaller indie fare. It doesn’t prevent us from caring about Father Colin or the souls in his path.

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A few plot moments strain credulity, but the movie’s flaws fail to nudge the narrative off track.

“Exemplum’s” willingness to foreshadow Father Colin’s plight works in its favor, as do the media snippets capturing his unexpected rise as a podcast star. Even richer? The film’s exploration of the church’s political wrangling.

Did Father Colin burn too bright, too fast? Does he share the “proper” message for the masses? That context gives texture, and insight, into a world we rarely see on screen.

There’s little sugar coating here, nor does “Exemplum” lob lazy attacks on the Church.

Roland’s tale offers a richer tapestry of questions regarding religion, humanity and our inability to get out of our own way, even those who devote their lives to their faith.

HiT or Miss: “Exemplum” offers a spiritual yarn that, while painted outside traditional lines, still respects the faith journey.

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