Bold Indeed

I attended a promotional screening of Courageous with my wife and parents.  As we were walking into the theater lobby following the screening, my 74-year-old mom gushed, “That was the best movie I’ve ever seen!”  When I followed up with a couple of rather surprised questions, she allowed that it was the best movie she’d seen in a long, long time and that she particularly appreciated both how moving and entertaining it was.

But still: this is the woman who dragged my siblings and me to see Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Fiddler on the Roof, The Ten Commandments, West Side Story, The Sting, Patton, Tora Tora Tora!, The Sound of Music, and Mary Poppins—even William Friedkin’s Sorcerer.  So it’s not like her tastes run to the lowbrow.  Take that endorsement as you will.

Even though I was bit biased about Courageous myself, having long been a mild fan of the film’s producers, and having been invited to visit the set while filming, my mom’s reaction didn’t surprise me.  Courageous is not the best film I’ve ever seen—but it’s one of only a handful of theatrical releases this year I’d get excited about seeing more than once.

Alex Kendrick stars in CourageousUnless you’ve been hiding under an entertainment world rock, you’ve probably heard about one or more of the Sherwood Pictures films: Fireproof, Facing the Giants—the “little movie that could,” made by a Georgia church’s media team and picked up by the majors for distribution—or Flywheel, the DIY film that got them started.

As many readers will know, Sherwood is the church who has partnered with Sony Provident to bring Facing the Giants and Fireproof to theaters across the country, and Flywheel to home video.  The success of Facing the Giants and Fireproof has surprised almost everyone in the business—even those who have enthusiastically supported those films.  The Sherwood approach is the envy of the faith niche market—even as they put but a fraction of their profits into increasingly bigger budgets for (hopefully) better films each time out.

On a Fox News interview the other day, director Stephen Kendrick reported the film’s budget at $1M with another $1M in post-production costs.  The fact that they’ve more than doubled the budget from Fireproof shows clearly in Courageous—and yet the film doesn’t betray its decidedly indie-level constraints.  The story of five men who are challenged to become better fathers, the film looks every bit as good as its non-CGI-dependent peers.

The central character is Adam Mitchell, a police officer and father of two.  He and his partner Shane Fuller help fellow force veteran Nathan Hayes shepherd rookie David Thomson through the web of gang-related drug activity that troubles their small Georgia town.  Meanwhile, Mitchell’s path crosses with that of Javier Martinez, a down-on-his-luck Hispanic worker who desperately wants to provide for his family.  Both personal and professional tragedy play roles in the quest of these five men to rise above cultural norms for fathers and husbands alike.  Some of them do better at that quest than others.

Like Sherwood’s other scripts, this one is laced with equal parts male challenge, effective comic relief, and dramatic tension.  The approach may be formulaic—from car salesmen, to football coaches, to firemen, to police officers… what’s next: servicemen?—but it works, connecting solidly to men (and women alike) who are tired of the conventional pop culture approach to mainstream entertainment, which consistently makes men the butt of every joke.  And, of course, Sherwood’s films resonate deeply with what’s loosely defined as the “faith audience”: millions of average small-town and middle-Americans who still believe in the power of God and religion.

I’d have to say that, of Sherwood’s four feature-film efforts, Courageous is the most pointedly aimed at a church audience.  Yes—the other films have had more conspicuous “come to Jesus” moments than does Courageous; but the values espoused by this last film are less universally applicable, I’d say.  Why?  Because Courageous has the guts to tell the whole Christian story about how men (and women) can transcend human frailty.  We can’t do it on our own, and it’s more than just Jesus-flavored positive thinking.  It’s God and the power of His Spirit that pull us through.  Past Sherwood films have left themselves more open to a generically American “bootstrap” mentality.  Courageous displays more “Kingdom thinking” than its siblings.

But I suspect this hearty honesty will actually bring better audience response (and thereby boxoffice returns) to Courageous than to its predecessors.  This is a solid film all the way around, and particular kudos go to all the male leads.  It helps that all the actors this time out are professionals and seasoned veterans.

Can lightning strike more than twice?  Well, Pixar has shown us it can in animation.  Sherwood seems well on its way to proving it with domestic dramas.

Courageous is rated PG-13 for “some violence and drug content.”  This is a mature drama that has more than one intense storyline—but remember, my mom had no problem taking her ten-year-old to Lawrence of Arabia or Patton; so be reminded that parental guidance is many times a good, good thing.  It helps kids understand the real world.

Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg attended a promotional screening of Courageous.