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Breakthrough (2019) - DVD Review

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Breakthrough (2019)

Movies like Miracles from Heaven and Heaven Is for Real tell allegedly true stories of divine intervention. The latest such movie is 2019’s Breakthrough. About four years ago in Missouri, teenager John Smith (Marcel Ruiz) fell through the ice of a frozen lake. After 15 minutes underwater he clinically died. But when John’s mother Joyce (Chrissy Metz) prayed at his hospital bedside, his pulse returned and he later made a full recovery. The medical experts couldn’t explain what happened. Christians hailed it as a miracle. John’s accident brought together his entire community, and his story spread as a dramatic illustration of the power of prayer.

"is an engrossing story with phenomenal acting, which is more than most evangelical films have going for them"

If you already believe in miracles, then Breakthrough will bolster your faith. But if you lean toward skepticism there isn’t much here to challenge you, especially since the story has been embellished for the screen. For example, the part I found most remarkable turned out to be fictionalized. It amazed me that first responder Tommy Shine heard a voice telling him, “Go back,” which resulted in his finally finding John. But according to the fact-checking site Hollywood vs. History, the filmmakers invented that part of the so-called “tapestry of miracles.” The book that Breakthrough is based on gives only a vague description of how Tommy located the boy. It turns out the real Tommy felt an inner sense of guidance, but he didn’t hear God or even his captain speaking at all. I found that disappointing. {googleads}

On the plus side the acting in Breakthrough is its biggest strength, especially by Chrissy Metz (This Is Us). The movie centers on her character more so than on John. She’s completely believable as a fierce, faith-driven adoptive mother who sometimes clashes with hospital staff and members of the community. Like the real Joyce Smith, Chrissy is not always sympathetic. “If it wasn’t for me, our son wouldn’t be alive right now!” she snaps at her husband (Josh Lucas), after demanding that no one say anything negative about John’s prognosis. It’s as if she wants to keep John alive through her own willpower.Breakthrough (2019)

Secular viewers point out that surviving an accident like John’s isn’t necessarily supernatural. Other people have lived through experiences of near-drowning, particularly in cold water. Joyce’s claim that she saved her son’s life begs the question, “Why did God answer your prayer, but not those of other people?” Are we to assume the others had too little faith? The movie raises theological issues but doesn’t fully address them. One of his teachers asks John why he believed God chose to intervene in his case, but not in her late husband’s. Probably wisely, John doesn’t even try to answer.

In the end, this is a Rorschach test type of movie: what you see depends on your current beliefs or lack thereof. Not everyone will come away believing a true miracle took place. But Breakthrough is an engrossing story with phenomenal acting, which is more than most evangelical films have going for them.

3/5 stars

Breakthrough (2019)


DVD Details:

Home Video Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Available on Blu-ray
- July 16, 2019
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
English (Dolby 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Discs: DVD Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A



  • Audio Commentary by DeVon Franklin and Roxann Dawson. Producer Franklin and director Dawson give background info on every scene, explaining their decisions and gushing about how well it all turned out. So this featurette is for serious fans only.

Special Features:

  • A Tapestry of Miracles: Making Breakthrough. The real Joyce and John Smith are interviewed, as well as some actors and director Roxann Dawson. Regarding the accident, everyone gives credit to God for John’s survival.
  • “Carry My Soul” Phil Wickham Deleted Scene. Phil Wickham is a Christian singer who starred in a scene that wound up getting cut from the film. Partly because they already had another musical scene, involving a crowd gathered outside John’s hospital room, it makes sense that the filmmakers took out this song.
  • Trapped in Icy Waters. This is a news segment covering John’s story, from the Christian Broadcasting Network (2015).
  • Gallery. A series of production stills, on automatic or manual advance. It’s so-so but does have intriguing shots that show how certain effects were achieved (e.g. the giant water tank).


Breakthrough (2019)

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic content including peril.
116 mins
: Roxann Dawson
Grant Nieporte
Marcel Ruiz, Topher Grace, Sarah Constible
: Biography | Drama
Based on the impossible true story.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Now's not a good time."
Theatrical Distributor:
20th Century Fox
Release Date:
April 17, 2019
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 16, 2019.
Synopsis: When her 14-year-old son drowns in a lake, a faithful mother prays for him to come back from the brink of death and be healed.


Breakthrough (2019)

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