Skip to content

Cabrini Movie Review

Less Girl Power and More Holy Ghost Power

If other movie studios had made Cabrini, I'd conclude that the writers were ignorant of Christianity. But given that it was made by “Angel Studios,” a Christian studio that produced The Chosen, I conclude that they are merely ignorant of Catholicism.

Which is a notable shortcoming in a movie about a Catholic saint.

I admit that I knew little about Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini before I watched this movie. I knew she was a religious sister who founded many Catholic institutions and was one of the first American saints canonized. But even my little bit of knowledge was enough to debunk the Cabrini portrayed. No saint would say, “We must believe in ourselves,” as she did in this film.

The Cabrini in this movie was more Pelagian, with a dash of feminism, than Catholic. She invoked her woman status far more than she invoked God. She uttered the name “Jesus” one time . . . in Italian. The movie showed her praying just once, and that was before a meal. It seemed that every sentence she spoke began with “I” and she was quick to glorify her actions with no due credit to God.

My criticism might come off as ironic to readers given how critical I have been in the past about Christian movies being too “on the nose.” But if you are going to make a movie based on a religious sister, it's okay to portray her as she really was, and if that sister is a saint, it's pretty important to portray why she's a saint.

My complaints about Christian movies’ heavy-handedness in their message is as much a theological criticism as it is artistic. The role of grace in the Christian life is perpetually debated, but many Christian movies use grace as a cure-all for life’s hardships. Cabrini did the opposite: it removed the role of grace altogether.

For Christian storytelling, human action versus divine will should not be difficult. If there is a disparity between the two, then it’s the job of the Christian to unite them. There would be no contradiction if Cabrini focused on Saint Frances Cabrini’s faith as well as her works, and it would not be an artistic sacrifice to seek to glorify God above the saint, as I have no doubt Saint Frances Cabrini would have wanted.

The Apostle James tells us “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20). But as Romans 4 makes clear, no great act of God was achieved without faith.

Overall, this movie is poisoned by the Protestant's ill-formed idea that Catholics think they are saved by good works. I do believe that the writers were attempting to be charitable in their portrayal of Catholics, but it was a charity rooted in ignorance of Catholic teaching.

Aside from the theology, the writing of Cabrini was not good. Even if I had not been watching a movie ostensibly about a Catholic saint, I would've tired of hearing the repeated phrase, “Because I’m a woman?” At one point, in two minutes, the line “Rats have it better than children” is repeated four times, word for word, only to be repeated at the end of the movie as well. There were also jumpy, inconsistent, and unfinished character arcs for every character, except for Cabrini who had no character arc at all.

Besides the writing, the movie was excellent. It was well-acted and beautifully shot, and the score was enough to make me feel for certain characters when the writing gave me little of them to grab hold of. But cinema is a storytelling art, and stories live or die by the writing. In Cabrini’s case, it died.

Score: 4/10