The Healer

2018-12-07 08:26
Camilla Luddington and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in a s


When an uncle he never met promises him a new start in Nova Scotia, Canada, Londoner Alec Bailey finds himself in a small town where seemingly everyone in the community believes him to be some sort of magical healing. He first believes this to be the result of a mistake in an ad he placed offering his service as a “healer of machines” but it soon becomes clear that there’s a whole lot more going than he first imagined.


The Healer is a bit of a tricky one to review. For a start, there’s the matter of its marketing, which posits this as a “faith film” (“faith”, of course, meaning Christian, in the way “religion” means Christianity in your average bookstore) but even with religious belief being an important part of the film and even if Christian faith is taken as the default setting for most humans, its “message” is a bit of a jumble.

I’m no Christian so maybe I’m wrong about this but wouldn’t Christianity view the idea of some random Canadian-English dudes who have the power to magically heal people as heresy? Isn’t that particular trick supposed to be the sole reserve of a certain carpenter who lived 2000-odd years ago in ancient Judea?

Oh wait, I get it: Alec (played competently enough by English actor, Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a stand in for Jesus, right? There’s the bit with him being chosen and him resisting the calling because of a lack of faith so I guess that kind of fits. It’s all a metaphor! Or a simile, I guess. Again, though, even as a metaphor, simile or allegory, what precisely is it actually trying to say? Not very much as near as I can tell.

At least, not much in terms of theology, philosophy, ethics or the human condition. It doesn’t even really have anything to say about Christianity or religious faith if you think about it. And yet, the Healer is a film of truly good intentions. And I do mean truly good intentions. Not just in the sense that it’s big-hearted and calls for us to care for the sick even without magic powers but in the sense that this is a film written and directed by a guy who decided to donate 100% of the film’s profits to an organisation started by Paul Newman (yes, that Paul Newman) for children with cancer and other serious illnesses.

How the hell am I supposed to tell people not to watch the Healer without coming across like the biggest douche on the planet? What, don’t pay money for a film that supports a charity for little kids with cancer? Don’t support the passion project of a writer/ director (Paco Arango, bless) who wanted to make a life-affirming little film with the express purpose of making the world a better place? OK, so let’s make a deal: if you’re not a discerning viewer and you don’t really care all that much about editing, direction, dialogue, characterisation, logic or even halfway competent acting, please go and pay to see this movie, sit back with a tub of popcorn in your local cinema and enjoy.

If, however, you are one of those pesky film goers who cares about all of the above and more, I’ll try and explain why I don’t think you need to see the Healer but I’ll do so on the condition that you buy a ticket for the film and then go off and do some shopping or have some coffee or something. Or, at the very least, give a donation to the Paul Newman Foundation or another charity like it. Deal?

Anyway, regardless of where its profits are going, it’s hard to be too hard on the Healer because it is so very well intentioned and so kind hearted purely as a piece of cinema. It just might be the least cynical movie ever made. However, that doesn’t really obscure the fact that, on a pure filmmaking level, it is an almost unmitigated disaster.

It’s edited and directed in such a way that there is almost no flow to the film at all with some of the conversations, in particular, very noticeably looking like they were filmed with people living continents apart. It’s terribly paced and blandly shot, despite being set in a clearly beautiful location in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It also has this weird habit of being a family film with a surprising amount of PG-13 rated swearing (“shit” is as bad as it gets but there is a lot of it) and its attempt to tie the film into the real kids that the Paul Newman Foundation routinely helps isn’t just clunky but it almost makes the film look (unintentionally) cruel as it offers a fantastical solution to a horrible real-world reality with no such miracle cure in sight.

Finally, though the more well-known actors (Jonathan Pryce, Camilla Luddington, Jorge Garcia) are OK enough in roles that they presumably took more out of kindness than anything else, most of the supporting performances by, I assume, non-professional actors are pretty terrible. Like, the Room kind of terrible. I genuinely hate to say it but the Healer just isn’t any good at all according to any remotely objective standard.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend paying for a ticket to the Healer (it’s been a couple of paragraphs, I know, but I take it you haven’t forgotten our deal?) or that I remotely enjoyed pointing out any of its many real flaws. I’m a reviewer, though, so I have to be honest. Still, even if the film really, really doesn’t deserve anything higher than two-stars; the Healer easily earns a five-star-masterpiece rating for its intentions. And, yes, I am fully aware of that old saying about the road to hell and good intentions but if you think this film, its creator or anyone involved in it have anything whatsoever to do with hell, you pretty definitely haven’t been paying attention.

PS. I know that all the proceeds from the film are going to this amazing charity but I’m not sure if that’s meant purely domestically or internationally too. Still, lets err on the side of even possibly supporting kids with cancer, shall we?

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