Directed by: Alex Kendrick (Fireproof)
Starring: Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Ben Davies, Kevin Downes, Robert Amaya
The same criticisms that were leveled against Alex Kendrick and Sherwood Baptist Church’s previous wide releases Facing the Giants (2006) and Fireproof (2008) can be said about their latest effort Courageous. It’s heavy-handed in its proselytizing, full of bargain-basement acting and it contains a plot that’s completely detached from reality. In the intervening years, Kendrick and company have finally learned how to make a professional-looking product. But while they’ve made something that looks like a movie, it’s only a resemblance.
Cinema is full of rich, challenging examinations of religion and spirituality that are nonetheless true pieces of filmmaking. This is not one of those films. This is a sermon, nothing more. It’s little more than a tract, and it’s not likely to convert anyone with its unrealistic, overly sincere view of the world. It’s more for the already converted and less for anyone who actually enjoys movies. In a way, I’d be fine with Kendrick and his brother Stephen (who co-wrote the film) if they’d just stuck to overt preachiness on screen. But no, they had to try and jam a plot into this thing. At 129 minutes (two whole minutes longer than the director’s cut of The Passion of the Christ, which seems a bit blasphemous), Courageous bobs around from subplot to subplot, with frequent stops for prayer, religious platitudes, solemn fits of crying or some combination thereof.
The movie, in essence, is about five dads (four of whom are deputy sheriffs) who make a pact with one another to praise the Good Lord and become better fathers. The intention is fine, even if their idea about strong family units feels simplistic, and by “better fathers” they mean being Christian fathers, but neither of these things is where I want to grind my ax. What galls me is that it took an hour for the film to introduce this plot point. There’s zero regard for efficiency, pacing or entertainment here. Instead of a plot, we get a little business about some gang of scary minorities who’ve decided to hole up in whatever Podunk whitebread Georgia town these people live in. As a result, parts of the film feel like some unwanted, unfortunate combination of The Wire and The Hour of Power. We also get a Mexican day-laborer (Don’t worry! He’s documented!) who can’t find work. (He also inexplicably slips into an Arab accent on occasion.) Finally, we get director Alex Kendrick as Adam, a boorish man who faces personal tragedy and gets to blubber a lot. (Kendrick’s so good at blubbering that he even manages to get some snot going at one point, which is fairly impressive.)
Rather than a plot, the movie traffics in disconnected set pieces decoupaged together as something resembling a film. I mean, Courageous has everything real movies have, like comedy and tragedy—even a gunfight. Of course, the jokes are all about things like Hawaiian shirts, so it’s all acceptable for your grandmother, while the tragedy is shoved into the movie to be manipulative and to get the plot going. The shootout scene is pretty nifty, if only for the bad guy (newcomer T.C. Stallings) who magically pulls a shotgun from his pants.
Really, the meat of it is supposed to be all the talk about fatherhood and Jesus, which ultimately feels like an afterthought since it’s shoehorned in. It’s certainly not convincing, since Adam’s only effort at being a better father is going jogging. Way to go, dad. But, as much as Courageous, its makers and its fans would like to believe, this movie isn’t going to convert anyone. This is simply a picture for people already in tune with its message, which make its good intentions moot. Rated PG-13 for some violence and drug content.