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Prizefighter to priest

The gritty story of a changed life

Karen Ballard/Sony Pictures/CTMG, Inc.

Prizefighter to priest
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From self-destructive prizefighter to passionate priest, Father Stuart Long was the real man behind the movie, Father Stu, released in theaters April 13. This true story starring Mark Wahlberg as Stu, and Mel Gibson as his father, personifies redemption—how Christ changed one man’s life and used it to change the lives of others.

Full blessing can’t be bestowed on the film because of ear-sizzling foul language and offensive conversations worthy of confession. But, if audiences can listen through it, they’ll be rewarded with a powerful gospel message shown through altered lives, as well as explicitly preached near the movie’s end.

Stu grew up in Montana with a single sibling, a brother, who one day didn’t wake up. His death traumatized the family, leading his parents to divorce, his father to alcoholism, and Stu to continual feelings of worthlessness and the need to prove himself.

After a doctor tells him injuries from amateur boxing have left him with a serious jawbone infection and blood inflammation, he naively heads to Hollywood, determined to become the next big star. Instead, he meets a Mexican gal, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), with whom he’s immediately smitten. He tracks her down to the doors of a Catholic church and brashly heads into mass.

Like a quest for the Holy Grail, he relentlessly pursues her—to the point of taking Christian education classes and sitting in on the children’s Sunday school class she teaches, just to be near and impress her. He even says, “I’m getting baptized cuz it means something to my girl.” But despite his initial impure motives, the truths of the Bible slowly begin to touch him.

The film elevates Catholic doctrine, especially surrounding Jesus’ mother, Mary, and the death-defying incident that inspires his life-changing choices, including his pursuit of the priesthood. But his ultimate transformation appears Christ-centered, according to his final sermon we’re privy to. And this transformation affects everyone in Stu’s purview, especially after he’s diagnosed with an incurable disease. Humor, often crude, is sprinkled throughout the movie, despite serious topics, although it declines significantly following his transformation.

With Wahlberg and Gibson, top-notch acting brings power and nuance to a memorable story. Wahlberg said he gained 30 pounds for the film. He believably portrays Stu’s growing disabilities and inability to control his muscles. Wahlberg said one scene felt particularly real, when in order to portray grief authentically, he poured out genuine tears and emotions over the recent death of his own mother. His personal story of troubled adolescence to eventual embrace of Catholicism has much in common with Father Stu.

F-bombs galore, vulgar talk, and bloody fight scenes earn the film its R rating.

Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a senior writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and holds two master’s degrees. She has served as university teacher, businesswoman, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, and Division 1 athlete. Sharon resides in Stillwater, Minn., with her husband, Bill.


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