Say what you will about the acting or technical merits of Sherwood Pictures’ recent hits “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof” – I liked them. Sure, they occasionally veered into heavy-handed didacticism, but there’s a lot to be said for a good story told in a reasonably strong way. (And, for the record, anything Sherwood Baptist puts out is head-and-shoulders above most of the other “Christian” films on the market today). When I heard the Georgia-based church group was releasing another feature film – “Courageous” – I was curious to see how it measured up.
The verdict: while certainly not perfect, “Courageous” is a remarkably well-done Christian film with broadly appealing themes.
“Courageous” follows the lives of five men – four of them policemen, one a day laborer. Most of them have children and are struggling with their respective parental obligations. When tragedy strikes one man’s family, he is forced to reevaluate the priorities in his life. I hesitate to say any more for fear of disclosing spoilers – suffice it to say that the story quickly becomes complex and multifaceted as the five characters’ lives intertwine.
The great strength of Sherwood Pictures’ films has always been their ability to make the Christian life look appealing. In an era where virtually every media portrayal of Christianity is negative, it’s extremely refreshing to see sincere Christians living happy, fulfilled lives. Characters struggle with real issues – some horrifically painful – but their faith remains steadfast. And “Courageous” certainly does evoke its audience’s emotions. The film contains some of the most heart-wrenching material I’ve seen in any movie…ever. The filmmakers succeed in bringing home the shattering reality of grief and loss, but rarely veer into excessive sentimentalism.
The biggest technical flaw of “Courageous” is its script. The actors do their best, but some lines come off as extremely forced. The writers also have a tendency to give almost every storyline a Hollywood “happy ending” – when too often in the real world, individuals don’t see the immediate consequences of their actions. (For example, a man’s reconciliation with his estranged ex-girlfriend is portrayed as swift and relatively painless, rather than the tortuous process it would likely be in real life.) Personally, I would have been fine with a more realistic approach…and I don’t think it would have undercut the film’s message. (The Hispanic characters in the film are also portrayed somewhat stereotypically, which may turn off some viewers.)
Yet by the end of the film, I wasn’t concentrating on its flaws. Say what you will about its “preachiness” – the filmmakers have a point. There is indeed a crisis of fatherhood in modern America, and in my book, any winsomely presented stories that advocate greater responsibility are worth a look. Even secular viewers – while they might dismiss the film’s Christian material – can reasonably acknowledge the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. It’s not a bad movie in other respects either – the action sequences are well-done, and the characters are compelling. (It’s worth mentioning that the film is rated PG-13, primarily for some intense hand-to-hand police fighting and briefly glimpsed bags of cocaine).
The last movie I saw in theaters before “Courageous” was the Ryan Gosling art-house noir thriller “Drive.” I left that theater feeling miserable – while the film was technically superb, it was a grim, violent ode to nihilism. I was left asking “what’s the point of even making a movie like this?” After “Courageous,” I felt uplifted and inspired – while the movie wasn’t as “sophisticated” as “Drive,” it actually contributes something immensely positive to modern culture. And that, for the film industry, is saying a lot.
Not perfect, but pretty good. Definitely a message movie, but this is one message culture could stand to hear.
Normalized Score: 4.6