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Review: Closeted preacher faces a reckoning in delicately wrought drama ‘The Revival’

David Rysdahl in the movie "The Revival."
(Breaking Glass Pictures)

The often difficult squaring of religious fervor and sexual longing receives poignant, powerful treatment in “The Revival,” deftly directed by Jennifer Gerber from a sensitive script by Samuel Brett Williams, based on his stage play.

Set in rural Arkansas, the film follows the travails of Eli (David Rysdahl), a circumspect Southern Baptist preacher who took over his late father’s church and now faces a shrinking and disgruntled congregation. Perhaps “Brother Eli’s” perceived lack of the requisite fire and brimstone comes, we will learn, from his suppressed homosexuality as well as a desire for a more progressive approach to “spreading the word.” Not surprisingly, both are a no-go in this deeply conservative community.

But when Eli meets a compelling mystery man, Daniel (Zachary Booth), who drifts into town one day, they begin a secret affair, one that stands to threaten both Eli’s marriage to the devoted June (Lucy Faust) and his standing as a man of God.

How Eli moves through this painful crucible is handled with credible care — and several quite profound moments — as choices must be made and priorities managed. It all plays out as Eli’s tough-minded friend and follower, Trevor (Raymond McAnally), plans a “first annual” revival meeting to help put the church back on the map.

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However, a more dimensional character in Daniel and a less abrupt ending might have better served this otherwise fine little film.

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‘The Revival’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes

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Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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