Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Courageous: A Semi-Review

courageousI had the occasion recently to watch Courageous and figured I would offer some thoughts in the form of a semi-review.

As I have noted with past reviews of Christian movies, I honestly find them to be lame. I long for the day a Christian production company will make a movie as engaging as Inception and as charming as Hugo. But my hope may be in vain.

With Christian film, the acting is always terrible, the production value is often worse, and any theology presented (if theology is even presented) is cringe inducing. The theology can be at two extremes depending upon the movie. On one end, the story will present a vague, deistic vision of God at best. On the other, its an over-the-top, in-your-face make a decision for Jesus right now Gospel presentation that drives a person to run for cover.

For those not familiar with Courageous, it's the fourth movie put together by the folks at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany Georgia. Their last movie, Fireproof, which I reviewed, was their biggest success. I thought it was good, or at least better than most so-called Christian films I have watched in the past. However, when my wife popped in the Courageous DVD, there were maybe 4 or 5 previews preceding the feature film. As I watched those trailers, what little enthusiasm I had for Courageous began to dampen, because the trailers for those other films were playing out the problems I have with Christian films in general. But I kept an open mind.

Once we got to the actual movie, I am happy to say my countenance revived.

Courageous centers around four sheriff deputies in a medium-sized town in Georgia (I'm guessing Albany). All of them profess to be God-fearing, church going men. After the movie spends about 20 to 30 minutes establishing the characters one of the 4 deputies experiences a major, life-changing trial with losing a child.

Broken over how he wished he could have been a "better" father, he begins a renewed commitment to become a father who serves God and his family, especially his son. He puts together a resolution and asks his friends to hold him accountable. The three others agree and they too personally take up his challenge of being a committed Christian husband and father.

Without getting into all the particulars concerning other plot points (and there are many good ones) the movie climaxes with this deputy preaching a challenging message of fatherly commitment to his entire church on a Sunday morning.

I will say I liked this film even better than Fireproof, and I liked Fireproof okay for what it attempted to be. The acting was much improved, which is to be expected as this Sherwood group makes more movies using many of the same actors. For example, one of the other deputies played the "Christian" fireman in Fireproof who witnesses to Kirk Cameron's character. His performance in Courageous was really well done.

I was also pleased to see some solid theology presented in the film. A really good example is the scene of the main deputy speaking with a pastor at his church about the loss of his child. When this scene started, I was thinking I was about to see some sappy, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for you life kind of talk from the pastor. I mean, if a grieving father was to come to me and ask me "why is God doing all of this?" I am not entirely sure exactly what I would say. The pastor responded by telling him something like, "God doesn't promise to tell us why, but He does promise to be with us and calls us to trust Him."

Additionally, in the key scene in the film, the actual "resolutions" that these men all agree to were read out, and as I recall, all of those resolutions were biblically sound and would be points I could heartily agree to. Furthermore, and I think more importantly, as with Fireproof, the same actor I mentioned above whose character witnessed to Kirk Cameron's character, also presents the gospel in this film to one of his buddies. The presentation I thought was decent. One of his main points was something like, "If a guy murdered your mother, but then told the judge that's really the only bad thing I've done and I won't do it again, and that judge let him off, would that judge be a 'good' judge?" Of course not, but as he goes onto explain to his friend, "God is a good Judge and He must judge sin, no matter how trivial."

And then one final thought. I appreciated how the film shows Christians working through personal tragedy and trials. As I noted with my Fireproof review, I am afraid Christians will watch these Christian movies thinking that if they follow a presented formula, like a “Love Dare,” they will fall into the mistaken notion that such a “formula” will be a certain cure to spiritual trials. I didn’t perceive that with this film. Instead, the film showed the difficulty of overcoming personal difficulties, and including how commitment will be challenged and men can most certainly fall in spite of their commitment.

I understand that the folks at Sherwood Pictures do not consider any recommendations for forthcoming movies, but I would challenge them to consider making a genuine culture shaking film. That being, they need to make a movie centered around the life of a flaming gay activist who is saved and he ceases being a homosexual and even falls in love with a girl and gets married. They could tackle all the current gay activist talking points like evangelicals are mean, there is no “gay agenda,” gay marriage, can a person truly have his orientation changed, etc. With a movie like that, they will definitely be “changing the world from Albany” as their motto states.



Blogger DJP said...

Thanks, Fred.

I actually liked "Fireproof" better, though I did also like this film. That's why there are so many flavors of ice cream!

6:55 AM, April 03, 2012  
Blogger fredsgirl said...

Now, aren't you glad I made you watch it! OH, the things hubbies will do for their wives... sometimes they don't even regret it! :)

10:00 AM, April 03, 2012  
Blogger Peter said...

Both can be rented or bought on iTunes, so I may add them soon to my Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and The Alamo (1961) collections.

5:34 PM, April 03, 2012  
Blogger Todd said...

Good review Fred. I liked the movie and thought they did a good job of portraying some of the turmoil and struggles of dealing with the loss of a child. I know they only scratched the surface but as one who knows that struggle, I appreciated their handling of it.

10:27 AM, April 04, 2012  
Blogger fred said...

I had the occasion recently to read a review of Courageous...
As I have noted with past comments of Christian movie reviews, I honestly find them to be lame. I long for the day a Christian blogger will post a review as engaging as Roger Ebert and as charming as Rex Reed. But my hope may be in vain.
With Christian movie reviews, the analysis is always terrible, the typography is often worse, and any theology critiqued (and there always is) is hyper-critical.
For those of you not familiar with Courageous, it's the fourth movie produced by a church... It's a church. It's not Hollywood. They don't drop tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars glorifying sex and materialism.
The preamble to this post sounds like one of those people who goes to a worship service and then critiques the sound quality and the talent of the musicians.

1:36 PM, April 05, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Fred (not the owner of this blog and whose profile is conveniently unavailable) wrote,

For those of you not familiar with Courageous, it's the fourth movie produced by a church... It's a church. It's not Hollywood.

It is by a church. I noted that in the review (which was positive, btw). But it is a large church that has gained millions of dollars not only from movie ticket sales of their films, but also in DVD rentals and other merchandise. They have the money to invest into making a film with greater production value.

Also, it is a church, which means that they should strive to make a good movie, not just a mediocre movie that is cheaply made because they don't want to be like "Hollywood." That is a dishonoring attitude to have toward the Lord's business if they desire to make a film meant for the larger evangelical market.

But for some reason Christians are content to compromise. They either compromise on production value, which makes the vehicle that carries the gospel a joke because it is laughable and unwatchable. Or they compromise the message of the Gospel because they believe it hinders the watchability of their film.

Now, I have high hopes for Sherwood pictures and wish them all blessing as they go with God, but the fact that they are a "church" should actually mean something with what they produce.

Believe me, if I attended a church whose sound system was terrible and the choir was off key all the time and the people didn't really care to fix the problem to make the worship better, I would truly wonder about the leadership of that church.

And FWIW, Dan Phillips's reviews of both Christian books and film are thoroughly engaging as Robert Eberts'.

5:53 PM, April 05, 2012  
Blogger fred said...

My apologies for the disabled profile. I didn't realize it was in that state. It's open now, but there is not much to see. Of course, I'm not really sure why it's relevant.

I think they are trying to make a good movie. But, how exactly would they improve? Should they enlist Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise as stars? Or, George Lucas to direct?

You say they make a lot of money. Where does it go? If it's being used for plasmas and surround sound or a more elaborate building then I'm with you. But, if it's going to missions or mercy ministries then they should keep the costs down and keep doing what they are doing.

In reality, they could amp up their "production quality" to the max, but if it's a Christian message the majority of the world isn't going to be interested. And, for those who are interested, the production quality isn't the primary focus. It may be for a guy involved with radio ministry, but not for most other people.

You can call it a dishonoring attitude if you like, but not being like Hollywood is a good thing in many respects.

As you pointed out, your review was generally positive. But, like I pointed out, I was more concerned about your needlessly negative preamble.

Nevertheless, I generally enjoy your blog posts. I lament the fact that my first comment to your site was a somewhat negative one. I'll make it a point to make number two more supportive.

7:35 PM, April 05, 2012  
Blogger Robert said...

I think that the problem that true Christian movie production companies run into is the talent level available. I appreciate the people who work on these films and the fact that they stay focused on the Gospel. The problem, though, is that to get any real training and development in the movie industry, one has to compromise their beliefes. Kirk Cameron was an established sitcom actor and he talked about getting blacklisted because of his beliefs. Just imagine how much harder it is for a new actor, director, or screenwriter. I haven't seen "October Baby" yet, but the guys who put that movie together had problems getting support and money to complete it and get it into theaters.

I'm beginning to wonder if we ever think about who and what we are supporting when we go to watch some of these movies or read some of the books that are out there. I'm wondering how the early church dealt with entertainment and if we haven't strayed way off of the map in this regard.

5:07 AM, April 10, 2012  
Blogger gman said...

I read all of the comments, and although I can’t respond to all of the points here, I want to say that in my opinion, Sherwood films seem to have made an effort to invest more heavily in their films to make them better each time, “by Hollywood standards.” The truth is though that for the theater, many people who aren’t Christians may not see the movie unless by accident. I saw it on Dish Online, the website my employer, Dish, owns, and it was prominently displayed as a suggestion, which I chose not knowing the content other than the description. I was so grateful for the way it impacted me to support my family better that I wrote a letter of thanks to Dish for featuring the movie like that. Perhaps others benefited from the content, and were able to put aside the standard they are used to from Hollywood, with the benefit most Hollywood films DON’T leave me with.

1:00 PM, May 30, 2012  

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