‘Unsung Hero’ Recalls Faith-Based Films of Yore

Remarkable story of a family’s resilience gets cookie-cutter treatment

The Smallbone family has a story tailor-made for the big screen. Scratch that. It’s almost too remarkable to fit on any screen.

The Australian clan came to America with little more than a dream to buck music industry odds. Instead, the family produced multiple chart-topping artists, including For King + Country and Rebecca St. James.

The children’s talents expand beyond musical successes, too, something “Unsung Hero” shares in the moving post-film credits.

The film itself, told in deep collaboration with several Smallbone family members, is either too close to the source material or unwilling to peek behind the surface.

What a shame.

Unsung Hero (2024) Final Trailer - Joel Smallbone, Daisy Betts, Kirrilee Berger, Jonathan Jackson

Joel Smallbone (For King + Country) co-wrote and co-directed a film where he plays his own father. David Smallbone’s music career is collapsing as the story opens in 1991. He decides to move his dutiful wife Helen (Daisy Betts) and their six children to America for a second (final?) chance.

David finds even worse luck in Nashville, forcing his family to improvise to pay the bills. They clean houses and mow lawns to make ends meet. Meanwhile, David feels like a failure for their lack of success.

They receive Christian charity from a local couple (Lucas Black, Candace Cameron Bure), but David’s guilt is all-consuming.

What he doesn’t realize is he has a musical prodigy under his roof – young Rebecca (Kirrilee Berger). Does she have what it takes to save the family’s fortunes? Or will David’s pride get in the way?


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Like earlier faith-based movies, the rough edges behind “Unsung Hero” have been sanded to a pristine finish. Betts’ Helen is the family rock, and she never makes a false move. The same is true for the Smallbone brood, so aw-shucks cute it makes your teeth hurt.

That’s especially true for Rebecca, a critical character given no screen time of consequence. Does she have dreams of stardom? What does she think of her father’s willingness to uproot the family on a professional whim?

Who knows?

We watch Papa Smallbone teach the daughter a few show business tics, and it’s a cringe-worthy spectacle in all the wrong ways. The film also fails to fully celebrate the clan’s music, relegating key songs to deep into the third act.

“Unsung Hero,” co-directed by Richard L. Ramsey, lacks the small, knowing details that made recent faith-kissed films like “Ordinary Angels” so memorable.

What works? Seeing a large, intact and joyous family on the big screen. It’s such a simple measure, capturing the lives many people live outside the Hollywood bubble. It’s still long overdue.

It’s understandable that David didn’t see his daughter’s potential on a certain level, but given his hunger for redemption and musical savvy it’s still partially unexplained.

LISTEN: The real-life David Smallbone opens up about ‘Unsung Hero’

A potential conflict between Black’s do-gooder character and Daniel also underwhelms. Why does Black’s character give, and give like he does? Does he understand why his kindness might not land the way he expects?

A smarter screenplay might delve deeper into these all-too-human themes. Not here.

It’s hard to gripe too much about “Unsung Hero.” It’s kind, uplifting and brimming with characters we rarely see on screen. It’s also impossible to wish the finished product fully captured the Smallbone family in all its glory.

HiT or Miss: “Unsung Hero” fails to capitalize on the faith-based film genre’s maturation, but it’s an undeniably moving family portrait.


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