As writer-director John Reign’s intensely personal feature film Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption opens, we see a somber figure ruffling through an old military issue duffel bag, sifting through the canvas entombed memories of his former life. It’s a powerful starting point moment in an altogether intense and heartfelt film about love, the healing power of laughter and what precisely it means about letting go of pain, guilt and self-doubt in order to get to the other side of a better life.
The pained man who starts the story of Finding Purpose rolling and who is our guide through the fractured landscape that is his life is a veteran of the Bosnian war, John Kayhill. This is a tired man; a man who suffers horribly from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder brought about as a result of his time fighting through hell in Bosnia. He has lost many fellow friends and soldiers in his lifetime and the weight of the cost of this endeavor sits heavy with the man. At night he dreams of fallen comrades and knows that, in order to ever live anything remotely resembling a normal life, he must make peace with his tumultuous past. It is this realization and this desire to act proactively and positively that sets John’s story truly in motion and it’s the fuel that drives this 21st century road movie from a merely serviceable story into one of true inspiration.
In the spirit of the best journeys, John Kayhill’s is one undertaken with those he loves most: his long-suffering wife and his special needs brother. His ultimate mission: To “let go” of a lifetime of pain at the imploration of the phantom friends he has buried on faraway foreign battlegrounds. The vehicle that acts as his salvation is a vintage sidecar motorbike left to him by a good friend who himself has passed on. As the story unfolds, what begins as a means of escape for the threesome turns into a neon splashed, Mother Road of an exodus to a better tomorrow. Stops by John and company are made along the dusty back trails and asphalt covered two-lane roads in order to visit with many of the families of his fallen friends, all in an effort to close a chapter in the book of his life before beginning an all new one.
The crescendo of this incredibly poignant and humor-filled journey is a final stop to visit with Kayhill’s estranged daughter, whom he has not had any contact with since she was a child. I won’t go into the details of their reunion only to say that it is the big and beautiful beating heart of Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption and, like so many things about life, it is neither saccharin or muted; it’s simply what it is – a reconnection that is bittersweet and that makes you want to laugh through tears. It is many things and it is also only one thing which is a parent’s aching love for Child and Home. Somehow, that’s simply enough.
John Reign is an extremely talented director who places the heart of Finding Purpose squarely on its lovely and tattered sleeve. The auteur pulls double-duty here, essaying the tricky role of John Kayhill personally and it works like gangbusters. Ably supporting Reign in the acting department is Thomas Stoops as his mentally challenged brother and what a wonder this actor is. We all know the pitfalls attached to an actor reaching into this sensitive territory and pulling back short and for every Leonardo DiCaprio/What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or John Malkovich/Of Mice and Men stellar performance, there are a million and one fine actors such as Giovanni Ribisi or Sean Penn who have fallen flat when attempting to capture this different shade of our existence. Stoops avoids the potential pitfalls and delivers in his role of Rodney Kayhill a subtle performance that speaks volumes. Major kudos to Dawn Lee Heising and Ashley Gallo as the twin towering pillars in Kayhill’s life; these two represent in physicality the Happy Place the wounded veteran is struggling to make his way to.
Treat yourself to an emotional and fun rollercoaster ride – Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption is some of the best news you’ll receive in these uncertain times.
Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption can be watched courtesy of the good folks at Amazon Prime Tell ‘em Vents sent you!