Franklin Entertainment and producer DeVon Franklin (“Miracles from Heaven,” “The Star”) will release “Breakthrough” on April 17. The film tells the miraculous story of the survival of a boy who fell through the ice on a frozen lake near St. Louis. Fourteen-year-old John Smith (Marcel Ruiz, “One Day at a Time”) was trapped underwater for 15 minutes and was without a pulse for 43 minutes after being rescued.
When mother Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz, “This Is Us”) and her church community stormed heaven with prayers, a miracle happened: John came back to life. The film is based on actual events that occurred in 2015 and are related by Joyce Smith in her 2017 book “The Impossible.” The book was re-released in March under the name “Breakthrough” and adapted to the screen by Grant Nieporte (“Seven Pounds”).
The film is a condensed, but accurate, version of the family’s experience, which ultimately demonstrates “how God can come into the circumstances of your life and work through them in ways you can never dream, with miraculous outcomes,” Joyce said.
As the movie opens, we see the lifeless body of John floating to the bottom of the lake. John, a star basketball player adopted from Guatemala, was struggling academically but otherwise was a normal high school student. He and two friends are playing on a frozen lake when the trio crash through the ice. His friends make it out; John passes out and sinks.
John is pronounced dead in the hospital as Joyce begs God to intervene and save her boy. John miraculously revives, but he is weak; his physician (Dennis Haysbert, “24,” “The Dark Tower”) tells the family that he doesn’t expect John to survive the night.
“The film demonstrates how people come together and support one another, and how God does amazing things in our lives,” Joyce said, adding that it is suitable for all audiences. “It is a story of hope.”
Along with Joyce and John, other key characters include John’s devoted father and Joyce’s faithful husband, Brian Smith (Josh Lucas, “Yellowstone,” “Sweet Home Alabama”), and the new church pastor Jason Noble (Topher Grace, “Spiderman3,” “That ’70s Show”), with whom Joyce does not see eye to eye.
The making of a movie
The process of bringing John’s miraculous survival to the screen began with a television interview Smith did about the event on Trinity Broadcasting Network’s “New Season with Samuel Rodriguez.” Also there to promote a book was DeVon Franklin, an author, producer and preacher. Franklin and Smith talked for nearly an hour, and Franklin related that he wanted to make John’s story the subject of his next movie project. Smith agreed.
The book and screenplay were written concurrently, he added, and casting began with the signing of Metz to play Joyce. “There was going to be no movie without Chrissy,” Franklin said. “She was the only actress we went to.”
Once Metz signed, they did a nationwide search for the rest of the cast. Another key role was that of John; they flew Manuel Ruiz to different locations for testing before they signed him, and, Franklin said, “he did a brilliant job.”
Roxann Dawson (“The Americans,” “House of Cards”) was selected as director. Dawson had a personal connection to the story, Franklin said, as she and her husband had adopted a baby from China.
“She intimately understood what it is like raising a kid of another race from another country,” he said.
An executive director for the film is NBA star Stephen Curry. Franklin said Curry’s passions include faith, family and sports, “and our script had all three. I sent him the script, and within 24 hours he said, ‘I’m in.'”
Filming took place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, including two days of shooting on a frozen lake. The actors had to film on the lake as well as a soundstage for underwater shots. Challenges included filming with minors, as there were restrictions on the number of hours the young actors could work.
Franklin said he was excited about “Breakthrough” and thinks it will be a hit with audiences of all ages.
“This is a family movie, featuring a modern family, and will inspire anyone who sees it,” he said. “It also shows that real superheroes don’t have to come from the comics.”
He describes “Breakthrough” as the most emotional film he’s ever produced.
“We’ve gotten a phenomenal response,” he said. “I’m happy and proud to have been part of it.”
Jim Graves writes from California.