Over the weekend, my wife and I went to see Courageous, the newest movie made by the good folks at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. The movie opened at #4 at the box office and brought in 9 million, which is a step above Sherwood’s Fireproof (2008), and makes it #5 for Christian movie opening weekends (behind The Passion of the Christ and the Narnia movies).
I thought about doing a full movie review, but there are too many ways to approach this film. I could review it in the way I review other films (artistry, character development, plotline, message), or review it in comparison to the three other Sherwood movies, or review it in terms of its message and potential impact. In the end, I thought it might be best to come at the movie from all these angles. So here are “some thoughts on Courageous.”
- Courageous is, by far, the best film that Sherwood Pictures has made. Facing the Giants was their break-out hit but was quite hokey in its concept and delivery (not to mention the prosperity-gospel message). Fireproof was a major leap forward, but Courageous goes even further. Alex Kendrick shows great improvement as an actor. The screenplay is several steps above Fireproof. The filmmaking of the action sequences rivals those put out by Hollywood. And one scene in particular (“The Snake Kings”) is laugh-out-loud funny.
- The message of Courageous is timely. The importance of fathers and the difficulties associated with fatherlessness are underscored by realistic examples of family-life. I think John Piper is right: “I would willingly take anyone to see this film, assuming they can handle suspense. And I think the conversations afterward would not be superficial.” The conversations afterward may prove to be more powerful and life-changing than the movie itself. But it’s good to see the message of Courageous igniting important questions about fathers and families.
- I get frustrated when Christians who bemoan the Church’s lack of engagement with the arts sneer at the perceived lack of artistry in movies like Courageous. It seems to me that whatever your thoughts on artistry and filmmaking might be, if you are looking for Christians to take a more active role in culture-making, then you should applaud and support anyone attempting to do something, even if you think the finished product could have been stronger. Evangelicalism has too many critics and not enough creators.
- Courageous is heavily didactic and a bit preachy at times, but I found this style to be part of its effectiveness. It’s preachy in the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was. Harriet Beecher Stowe was so passionate about the subject of slavery that she couldn’t help but begin sermonizing at times. The creators of Courageous feel the same way about the subject they are tackling. The purpose isn’t to create a classic movie but to get across a message. Seen in this light, it makes the didactic elements less distracting and helps make sense of the film’s purpose.
- About three quarters of the way through the movie, the plot line meanders a bit. Fifteen minutes or so could have been shaved off the film and it would have been stronger overall. Still, the characters are engaging, and there is enough character development to keep viewers interested.
- The truth that God raised Jesus from the dead is proclaimed after a tragedy. And the truth that the only way to escape judgment is by trusting in Jesus as our Substitute is presented in a way that works seamlessly into the movie. I was impressed by a scene in which one of the men complains about “feeling guilty,” to which the Christian replies, “I’ve got news for you; you are guilty.”
- The movie puts major emphasis on fathers resolving to “call out the men in their sons.” The movie condemns passivity in men as the leaders of their homes. The filmmakers want men to step up and fulfill their duty.
- One might quibble here and there with the emphasis on willpower – particularly when considering the pervasiveness of sin, but the script makes sure to ground good intentions in one’s relationship with God. “You’ve got to get right with God before you can get right with your son,” one character says. And the end of the movie features the main character calling the men of his church to step up and resolve to live courageously as fathers. Who will protect the family? “By God’s grace, I will!” he says. May all Christian fathers have such resolve!