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HOSEA: Moving Update of an Old (Testament) Story

“Hosea” is a brief Old Testament book in which God shocks both his readers and his prophet by ordering him to marry a sexually promiscuous woman.

It’s also the name of a thoughtful and absorbing new movie that transfers this story to 21st-century Oklahoma -- where the smitten Henry relentlessly pursues the love of his life, even though she’s knee-deep in prostitution and narcotics.

It’s a simple plot, and in lesser hands, it might feel improbable as well. But “Hosea” -- released by the fledgling Small Group Films -- is utterly convincing; and it never drags for a minute. This debut feature from director Ryan Daniel Dobson achieves an almost mesmeric spell from its very first scenes, thanks partly to Dobson’s articulate, read-between-the-lines script -- and to a sensational lead performance by Camille Rowe.

Though she has a substantial list of credits, I don’t know a thing about this actress except what I saw in “Hosea”: an instantaneous bond with the audience -- one greatly aided by similarly empathetic work from Margaret Fall, who plays the younger Cate in early scenes. Fortunately, the terrific Rowe has four more films in the pipeline, including a thriller co-starring Anthony Hopkins.

I was also impressed that for the most part, Dobson did not exploit Rowe’s sultry good looks; though there is frank sexuality, it is handled tastefully and without nudity.

Avi Nash occasionally feels too good to be true as Henry -- though that is certainly how his part is written. Even better are Josh Pence as Cate’s pimp-boyfriend and especially Patrick Cavanaugh (“Mad Men”) as a gallery-owner who sees artistic potential in the young woman.

Aiding our involvement is a good deal of subtlety in the script: Dobson often refuses to spell things out, pulling us farther into the narrative as we are forced to fill in gaps. It’s heartening to see a filmmaker put so much trust in his viewers.

Best of all is the similarly light and nuanced touch Dobson brings to biblical themes -- including some effective symbolism, particularly with Henry’s job of repurposing unwanted things. The ancient story of Hosea and his wayward wife is generally seen as a parable of God’s love for unlovely people. Somewhat miraculously, Dobson develops this in a way that is enormously moving, yet never obvious, cloying or pushy -- as is so often and so regrettably the case in recent films about faith and scripture.

The movie falters only in its final moments, where Dobson loses focus on the original message of Hosea; I just could not connect the dots in this scene.

Nonetheless, “Hosea” is a fascinating, unique and compelling motion picture that bodes well for its galvanic lead -- and for its talented writer-director.

The film is available on Amazon, Vudu, Google Play and Apple TV.

* * * 1/2 (out of four)


written & directed by Ryan Daniel Dobson

Run time: 99 min.

Rated R for language. frank sexuality and drug use

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