Sherwood Pictures brings us a powerful film about the importance of godly fatherhood.
Directing/Producing/Writing/Acting team Alex and Stephen Kendrick have come a long way since the release of the film debut, Flywheel (2003) and their subsequent films, Facing the Giants (2006) and Fireproof (2008) – which became the highest grossing independent film of that year.
They have taken a lot of criticism for their direct and up-front approach to evangelism in their films, as well as the production quality of films made almost entirely by church members and volunteers. With their company Sherwood Pictures’ newest film, Courageous (2011), the Kendrick Brothers take Christian filmmaking to new heights, but, though it adheres to a Christian worldview and so is thus vastly better than the detrimental films of Hollywood, there are problems that even this film has. I hope to take an honest look at the pros and cons, the jobs-well-done as well as the things that could have been better in this film. For all this however, the Kendricks have produced a film that is truly courageous.
The film follows the struggles and joys of four local sheriff’s deputies as they fight against drug and gang-related crime in Albany, Georgia, and resolve to be godly fathers at home. These men are Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick), Nathan Hayes (Ken Bevel), Shane Fuller (Kevin Downes) and David Thomson (Ben Davies). Each of them has their own problems, their own trials to face, and important decisions to make as the respective leaders of their homes.
Adam and his family face devastation and tragedy when his young daughter is suddenly killed in an accident. He must work through his grief and at the same time, he realizes that he has neglected his surviving teenage son. Growing further and further apart, Adam sees that he must do something. He must rethink being a father before it’s too late. He calls together his three friends from the police department and friend Javier Martinez (Robert Amaya), to discuss a “Resolution”. They will make being God-honoring fathers a priority in their lives. And so, with a formal signing of the Resolution, the games begin.
Nathan’s biggest troubles as a father start up when a young man starts approaching his daughter about dating. He takes a stand to protect his daughter from the dangers of uncommitted relationships, much to her chagrin at first.
Though he is most reluctant of the five men at first, Shane and his son, grow closer together.
David, the rookie deputy, admits to having a child out of wedlock, whom he abandoned along with her mother after she refused to get an abortion. He endeavors to reconnect, bridge the gap, and show himself an honorable and worthy father, like he should have been from the beginning.
Javier, an immigrant Hispanic struggling to provide for his wife and two kids, gets a job from Adam in an extremely providential way. He proves himself to be both a hard worker and a man of steadfast integrity.
All of this goes on as the police tighten up on the gang activity in the area, ending in a heart-thumping shoot-out between some crooks and the courageous deputies. Adam reconciles with his estranged son and receives solace about his daughter’s death; Nathan and his daughter promise each other to work together to one day pursue her marriage from a Scriptural perspective, with purity; Shane faces a hard lesson; and David takes steps toward being involved in his daughter’s life; and they all take their message of courageous fatherhood to Adam’s church in a climatic, rousing speech by Adam to fathers. Now, that we gone through a bird’s-eye overview of the film’s plot, let’s look at what was well done and what, maybe, wasn’t.
First off, Courageous definitely ups-the-ante technically speaking, from their previous films. The acting, for the most part, is well played. They achieve an authentic drama and side-busting humor with skillful filmmaking. There are profound messages on God’s providence (through Martinez’s subplot), integrity, faithfulness, and courage.
Though few in number, especially when compared to all that the film gets right, there are some theological points within the film that I take issue with. First, on a side note, there were certain lines that weakened the film’s stance on various issues that the movie brings up. For instance, when asked about why he is homeschooling his children, Javier answers that it’s “Just for now”, that he and his wife think it’s important to lay a solid foundation while their kids are young (true and right), but he implies that it is only for the time being, before they go off to public school. It’s seems like an attempt by the filmmakers to play both ends against the middle, but in the end this wishy-washy line weakens their stance on either side and confuses us as to where they stand. Similarly, Nathan’s primary subplot, revolving around his relationship with his daughter, is also injured by Nathan’s insisting that she will not date while she’s under his roof… until she is seventeen years old. So, dating is bad but once you’re seventeen it’s fine? They needed to be much clearer and bolder on these points, though they are minor subjects within the story.
Other part is when Shane, in confessing to a horrible backsliding, explains that he simply “let go of the wheel” somewhere down the line (this has reference to the movie’s opening scene), and he warns Adam to “never let go of the wheel”. While the point of these lines is clear, they put the focus on man and his merits rather than the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
In an early seen with Javier and his wife Carmen (Angelita Nelson), she encourages him by telling him not worry, that “God blesses you because you honor Him.” While it might have been encouraging, and God does promise to bless those who obey Him, God’s blessings are not incumbent upon our obedience and faithfulness, and God will do what He will. Job honored God and received trials and suffering. To say that line is perhaps not theologically inaccurate, but it is misleading and ought to have been phrased differently.
During the scene where David confesses to his unchaste past and abdication of fatherhood, Nathan shares the gospel with him. It is a powerful scene (though critics complain and protest against this kind of on-screen evangelism, which can be cheesy, but is handled well by the Kendricks). However, Nathan says something that some of my Christian readers may agree with, but which I do not. In the middle telling David about the gospel and the salvation found in Christ, he says, “but this only applies if you accept it.” Now I don’t know where you fall on the matter of “free will” vs. “predestination”, but I have come to believe that the “you have make the choice” mentality is theologically erroneous. Yes, there is a decision made here on our end, but that decision cannot be made unless the Holy Spirit is working in our lives beforehand. I would urge those of you who hold to this Arminian doctrine, to re-read Romans 8:18-30 and Romans 9, in light of the total depravity of man (i.e. our incapability to make the choice without God’s predestination) and the complete sovereignty of God over salvation. Some of you may not think this significant, but as a point of theology it is very important and that is why it is brought up in this review. Other than those few things, a bit of cheesy acting here and there, and some under-developed plotlines, there was little at all to complain about in this film. It was a wonderful thing to come to the theater and know that you needn’t be worried about defiling content and I thoroughly enjoyed the film.
Courageous was both powerful and moving, both dramatically gripping and engagingly humorous. Many of Javier’s scene will have everyone roaring with laughter, and several of the dramatic scenes are so powerful that everyone – even those skeptical of the film’s message – will be affected. The film’s timely message was rich with truth, and it’s judicious use of aesthetics was compelling. I for one am not ashamed to say that the film had me in tears several times. Overall, it was just plain good. A few blunders here and there did not distract from the overall quality. The intensity of some of the action and the gang-related scenes earned this film a PG-13 rating, and may be too much for some younger children, but the Kendricks are conscientious filmmakers and they handle violence appropriately, making this a great film for people of nearly all ages to enjoy.
I would like to end by talking about a recent review of this film by Christian magazine, WORLD. In their review, they talk of how it’s time for the Kendricks to “go pro”, to go over to Hollywood so their films can gain some “technical professionalism” that is lacking in their current productions. I would like to include a bit of a letter that I sent to them in response:
“… Your call for the Kendrick Brothers to join up with Hollywood completely misses the point of why they are making these films to begin with. There is a burgeoning movement of Christians pursuing the art of film to the glory of God, outside of the Hollywood powerhouse. It’s about building a grassroots industry that can stand up against the ideologically/aesthetically toxic monopoly that Hollywood has on our culture… even the “big dogs” of Hollywood’s system make errors in story development, editing, juggling plotlines, acting and other production aspects. It’s part of growing as a filmmaker, storyteller and artist. Nevertheless, capitulating to them for the sake of production quality, even to reach a bigger audience, would be to sacrifice what they’ve worked so hard to gain. The Kendricks and those like them aren’t interested in just making films; they want to make Christian films. This doesn’t stop at a mere genre (though the Kendricks have worked within that genre very successfully); it’s a presuppositionally Christian approach to making films that spans nearly all genres. Could their films benefit from greater professionalism? Sure. But the answer to Sherwood’s production problems is not “going pro” and joining up with people who have worked, and are working to subvert Christian civilization, however talented and competent, rather, it’s becoming pro, through diligence, faithfulness and hard work, independent of the so-called experts of an ungodly industry. … Please don’t treat Christian filmmakers as struggling children just waiting to jump into the arms of big-brother Hollywood. When fully matured, the stature of this industry will, by God’s grace, be higher than Sunset Boulevard can ever aspire!”
This film is a significant step forward in the Christian independent industry and should be supported by anyone and everyone who wants to see filmmaking reformed to the glory of God, who wants to see Courageous filmmaking!
Reviewed by: Isaac R. Arthur, filmmaker and student at Blue Banner Media
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