Microwave some popcorn. Curl up in your favorite TV-viewing chair. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a purring kitten in your lap. It’s a Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie Night.
The latest in the indestructible series is “Firelight,” airing Sunday, April 22, at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Like each of the previous Hallmark films, “Firelight” is beautifully shot and full of sensitive performances from its core group of actors. And like each of the previous Hallmark films, “Firelight” has as its objective to remind of us of our humanity.
Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Dwayne “D.J.” Johnson, a counselor to a small group of young women in a correctional center. Along with quoting Vince Lombardi, Nelson Mandela and Voltaire, D.J. employs Plato’s “The Republic.” In the philosopher’s Parable of the Cave, shackled prisoners who have never seen the sun are only able to view their reality from the light of a fire, hence, the name of this film.
But that’s just one of the heavy-handed metaphors. One inmate brings in a butterfly to encourage a pal confined in solitary after a fight erupts.
In this context, D.J.’s platitudes — “We all create our own realities by the choices we make,” for example — are more easily digested.
One of the work projects in the correctional center is firefighting. But just one more volunteer is needed from among the inmates to continue the program’s success. As D.J. explains, he created the team of firefighters “because I wanted to change the way these girls see themselves. To feel strong. To see other people respecting their strength.”
Enter Caroline (Q’orianka Kilcher), a new prisoner. Amid skirmishes with other prisoners, Caroline completes her GED diploma and is able to join to train as a firefighter with fellow inmates Terry (DeWanda Wise) and Keisha (Yakini Horn), who have befriended her.
Viewers are also briefly introduced to D.J.’s family, who “remind me of how things are supposed to be.” He has a basketball-playing son and a devoted wife who offers sympathetic pillow talk in one brief scene.
The gentle drama is directed at a languid pace by Darnell Martin, who wrote and directed the 2008 feature film “Cadillac Records” but is primarily known for her TV-sitcom directing. The script is by Ligiah Villalobos, screenwriter of the warmly reviewed “Under the Same Moon” and many episodes of Nickelodeon Studios’ “Go, Diego, Go” animated series.
As any film buff will know, Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Academy Award for his “Show me the money” role in Cameron Crowe’s 1996 movie “Jerry Maguire.” He was last seen in the George Lucas-produced, World War II-set drama “Red Tails.”
Kilcher, who plays the new inmate, Caroline, was Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s “The New World” feature film in 2005 opposite Colin Farrell’s Captain Smith.
While the D.J. character in “Firelight” is “not a hugger,” it’s a safe bet that before the movie ends he will be tenderly embraced by an inmate who has learned that “sometimes it just takes one person who got a vision of who I could be.” Viewers will also be enveloped by the benevolence that Gooding portrays.