By: Oberst von Berauscht (Four Beers) –
*Steps onto soapbox*
Have you always wondered what Mega-Churches do with all that property tax money they’re not paying? (Besides building stadium sized Prayer-Domes) The Sherwood Baptist Church(responsible for the moderately successful Fireproof and Facing the Giants) has made a go at mainstream religious filmmaking. Before I go further, let me just say in advance that I have no problem whatsoever with this, as many excellent and artful films have been made with pro-religious messages. (See: Night of the Hunter, Ben Hur, A Man for All Seasons) My review of the movie is based purely on its merits as a work of art, and piece of entertainment.
*Steps off soapbox*
Hardest part was finding the fuckin’ thing
Adam Mitchell is a police officer living in Albany, a small town in Georgiawith his friends and fellow officers Nathan Hayes, Shane Fuller, and David Thomson. Each struggle with their responsibilities both at work and at home, when simply having the best intentions is not enough. Along the way they meet and befriend Javier Martinez, a Mexican day-worker who like them is struggling, perhaps even more than they. After tragedy strikes, they find their faith shaken, and together struggle to rebuild themselves into better people.
Life is imitating basic-cable… And it’s starting to freak me out
For a film with such a saccharine premise, I was pleasantly surprised with how seriously they treated the material. Filmmaker and star Alex Kendrick is clearly personally invested in the material, and is determined to make an honest and powerful statement. While it isn’t always as focused as I’d have liked it is mostly successful in this regard. The movie makes a palatable and undeniably universal statement about fatherhood and personal responsibility. It also has some strong performances, the standout being Robert Amaya as Javier Martinez. And I hope director Kendrick noticed his talents, because he could go a long way in legitimizing Sherwood’s films in mainstream eyes if used as well as he is here.
Courageous also has some pretty funny and well-written moments which helped to lighten the mood, keeping the movie from feeling too heavy-handed and preachy. The movie does have its darker moments too, which are generally handled quite well.
All praise aside, this movie has some serious flaws which keep it from being as powerful as they were aiming for. The story often feels scattershot, as if the screenwriters came up with a serious of stories and threw them all on the page at the same time. Although Adam Mitchell gets the most screen-time as a character, there is no “lead” role. And often Courageous bogs down under the weight of the four or five stories it tries to juggle. None of these stories are unimportant, but a clever editor would have found a better way to tie them together.
Ok maybe it isn’t quite this awkward…
Another major issue is the uneven nature of the film’s dialog. Sometimes the writing flows naturally, as if you are watching real people have conversations. These scenes are refreshing and often constitute some of the funniest or most honest portions of the movie. Unfortunately other times it seems like the writers were in too much of a hurry, shoehorning in expository dialog that runs strongly against the current. And while it is a foregone conclusion that this film is a “Christian” movie, there are far more creative ways to express your moral opinion than ending the movie with a sermon. Admittedly, it is a well-written speech but if your aim is to evangelize, it may be best to not simply preach to the choir.
One more issue that definitely needs to be addressed about this film is the music. While most of the film feels at least professional in quality, the film’s score often sounds like it is trying to emulate far bigger budget productions without the tools to do so. Worse yet, the music often doesn’t flow well with the scene, or is present in scenes for which score is unnecessary.
Speaking of unnecessary…
Later in the film things start to improve and there are some moments where it starts to work though. So this is perhaps another victim of the poor editing choices which weaken the overall impact of Courageous.
I am looking forward to Sherwood’s next film projects; provided that they tighten up the loose ends, they could have a great film in them, eventually… I’ll be less forgiving of technical flaws next time though.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for crazy plot twists!
Take a Drink: whenever they start sermonizing
Down a Shot: when they finish one montage, only to segway into a second montage