Spitfire Grill has the courage to have a young woman play the "Christ" character, and have the bad guy of the movie restored at the end. This is risky film making.

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Writer/Director Lee David Zlotoff says:
This film is about the desires of the human spirit. In many ways, it is also about intolerance and fear. It's a positive human values story, not necessarily a family film, but a film you could take your family to.

This page was last updated on June 27, 2005

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This is Percy Elliot who comes to town and brings profound change to everyone through her death.  This is the story of Christ in modern dress. 

Photo © Castle Rock Entertainment. All rights reserved

Percy Talbott: Alison Elliott, Hannah Ferguson: Ellen Burstyn, Shelby Goddard: Marcia Gay Harden, Nahum Goddard: Will Patton, Joe Sperling: Kieran Mulroney, Sheriff Gary Walsh: Gailard Sartain. Written and directed by Lee David Zlotoff.
Running time: 111 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements).
Screened at the Sundance Film Festival in Competition. Won the Audience Award.

Geoffrey Gilmore of Sundance says: Spitfire Grill is an exploration of redemption and rebirth -- of a girl, a marriage, a mother and a son, and a town.

Beth Husted of Kansas State U says: What you discover about "The Spitfire Grill" is that Gilead is the town for lost souls.


Review by
John Schuurman

Pastor Wheaton Christian Reformed Church and family man, (one church, one wife, two kids).  Born and reared in Denver, Colorado.  Life-long Bronco fan.   Education: A.B. English/Speech/Education M.A. Theater Arts M.Div Biblical Studies Career experience: High school teacher, Actor/director for legitimate theater, raconteur.
John Schuurman

     I am encouraged. After the dreadful dearth of quality popular movies (I hear "Lone Star," "Emma," and "Trainspotting" are exceptions) in the summer of '96, at last there are some new films emerging for the autumn season that will get me out to the theater again.

     "The Spitfire Grill" was well worth the time and money. Set in a wonderful little backwoods town in Maine called
Gilead the film does much with references to its Biblical namesake. In the Bible, Gilead is the region to the east of the Jordan river, noted for the soothing "balm" or ointment gleaned from its woodlands. One of the hopes for modern Gilead's future is that such a substance (for healing purposes) has been discovered in the forests of the region that had long been thought ruined and useless. The Biblical Gilead was also a refuge for fugitives. Among those who sought refuge in Gilead were Jacob when he fled before Laban (Genesis. 31:21-55), the Israelites who feared the Philistines in Saul's time (1 Sa. 13:7), Ishbosheth (2 Sa. 2:8-9) and David during Absalom's revolt (2 Sa. 17:22ff.)

     Gilead provides such a refuge for Percy, a young woman recently released from prison.
She finds healing and purpose in Gilead (although not without notable obstacles). Ultimately, she loses her life there, but in the losing, provides a Gilead of her own for some significant others. The old spiritual goes, "There is a Balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole"(Jer 8:22), and it provides the theme for this grand movie. The place becomes a haven of hope and healing.

     Some other reasons to attend: The movie is beautifully shot in rural New England, the acting over all is first-rate, and writer-director Lee David Zlotoff has brought a wonderful ensemble together of Ellen Burstyn, Marcia Gay Harden and Alison Elliott.

     And then some new territory too: I am not usually grateful for the long run of suspense and action dramas that compose such a large portion of the menu provided by American film makers. The cliche: "bad things happening suddenly preceded by menacing music" is so overworked that, like a grouchy cat, I grow weary of being played with, and so I hiss and huff and hide under the chair. But sometimes I am grateful because all of those suspense movies and TV shows that torment us with menacing music as we wait for the sudden horror to bust into the screen have built a vocabulary and a context for viewing in which a movie like this one can come along -- and playing off of that context -- become something all together different. The point is, I don't think this move works without all of the suspenseful nailbiters to provide a counter-point.

     But it works well. "Tender Mercies" was like that. Bruce Beresford, director of "Tender Mercies" and Zlotoff continually serve up situations that are full of threat which then prove to be innocent or even helpful.

     It happens this way, (you have learned to see these things coming): It is about time for the plot to take a twist. Ominous things are afoot. The sub-terranian music of fore-boding softly growls several layers deep. A car full of men pulls up or a child steps out into the street or you see a movement in the shadows. But then, "Fooled ëya!; it's OK; no harm intended here; rape, murder, mayhem didn't even cross our mind."

     Well, we know it is not true but we love the relief. The unsavory characters smile and don't make any sudden moves; the child simply makes it to the other side of the street, the man lurking in the trees proves to be an angel.

     This technique works wonderfully well in "Spitfire." The movie is not without "bad things happening" and there is enough suspense for the movie to work. But the film does tighten and release its grip on us repeatedly until we are relaxed and softened up for the occasion when it does want to really
squeeze us.

     One last thing: Zlotoff has the courage to have the bad guy of the movie restored at the end.
This is risky film making. Nahum, the close-minded towny scoundrel is someone we have found it easy to hate when the time comes to close the film. And our blood lust would have been satisfied had he come to a wretched end. But we are not allowed that catharsis. The man does a righteous thing. And though he is damaged goods, and though we are reluctant to bless and not curse him, we see him restored. In addition to being the most accurate demonstration of the Christian doctrine of grace I have seen in recent memory, it is one of the most risky film making choices I have witnessed in a long while.

Subject: Spitfire Grill
Date: Tue, 2 Apr 2002
From: Rev. Stephen Hale

I saw this movie during the year that my wife was dieing of cancer. I am a United Methodist Minister, but I used to be a biker, an atheist and a bitter hard man. After all I had been through, I was shocked and angry over my wife's illness and eventual death. When I saw Percy's story and saw "the man in the shadows," I came to understand my life better. There truly has been many a Balm of Gilead laid upon my spirit in the years that have come and gone. Just as God watched over that town in the movie and the shadow man (can't recall his name right now), I KNOW without one doubt that God watched over me and I am thankful. Each and every sorrowful moment, each and every joyfull moment, each hurt, and each triumph has been a blessing from God and has been used to the best of my ability to God's greater glory. My salvation came about during and after a neighbor committed suicide and then I had a cardiac arrest a year later. I was literaly reborn with a spirit that was closer tuned to God. I saw that happen to the Percy character and the Shadow Man in the movie. Thanks for reminding me, I pulled the story into my sermon for this week. I used a bit of your reflections and I pray that is ok. May God bless you and your work.
Still In One Peace,
Rev. Stephen Hale,
Pastor New Hope UMC, Enid, OK

Subject: SpitfireGrill
Date:Sun, 3 Mar 2002

The film was financed by the Sacred Heart League of Walls, MS, but they did not exercise creative control. Instead, they let writer Zlotoff free to create a story that would make a positive contribution to our culture.

I think this is a wonderful film.

Rose Pacatte, FSP
Director The PAULINE CENTER FOR MEDIA STUDIES is a project of the Daughters of St. Paul of the US-Toronto Province. The Center was founded in 1995 to promote media literacy education in schools and faith communities.

Subject: Information request
Date: Fri, 8 Sep 2000
From: Rita, New Zealand

Could you help me in regards to the movie SpitfireGrill - who was the producer for the movie. We read your review it list Actors, Actress, Writer/Director but no details on the Producer I would be thankful to receive some information or web site that would help answer my question.
Thanks Rita, New Zealand

Response: Sorry, I do not have such info. I do know that the writer was Jewish and it was a fund raiser for a Catholic charaty. -David

Subject: This Isn't The Only Film That Has A Girl Play Jesus!
Date: Wed, 24 May 2000
From: Joseph Ricci

There is one, from Daemon Records: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR- A RESURRECTION Has Amy Ray play Christ Will get back to you on this one.
Joseph Ricci
P.s. don't show my email address

It was interesting to read in your review about the "balm" being in those trees, i didn't get it by myself. thanks for pointing that out!

One of my top 10 movies ever!

Spitfire Grill © 1996 Castle Rock. All rights reserved.