On Sunday night, November 6th, I finally got a chance (thanks to the help of my visiting mother-in-law and grandparents-in-law) to view, with my lovely wife, Courageous, the new movie by Sherwood Pictures. As you probably already know this is the latest installment of motion pictures produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. With each new release, the studio gets larger, the movies are shown in more theaters, and, as I will show below, the films get better. Courageous represents Sherwood’s most ambitious project to date, having clearly spent more money and time on every aspect of the movie. But, before I go and hand over any Oscars, I do have to say that there are some elements that still need improvement. And so here is my brief review of the movie – the good and the bad.
Courageous is by far the best Christian film I’ve seen. The storyline, the acting, and the cinematography all far exceeded any previous Christian movie. The Kendrick brothers have certainly progressed as filmmakers and the future of Christian cinema looks brighter.
- The storyline was terrific. It was believable, emotional, and heartwarming. Nothing about it seemed contrived or odd. I wasn’t forced to suspend reality in order to accept the scenario presented. The conflict and rising action were presented well, there was good character development, and the climax and resolution were complex and believable. Everything at the end wasn’t neatly tied with a bow (e.g., the young officer still left trying to reconnect to his long-lost daughter), forcing the viewer to continue to process the movie, long after it ended.
- The acting was far better than in previous films and, for the most part, better than most movies labeled “Christian.” Alex Kendrick (Adam Mitchell) is clearly maturing as an actor. Ken Bevel (Nathan Hayes) was even better the second time around. T.C. Stallings (T.J.) was terrific and convincing. But the guy who had the best acting chops in the whole film (and probably the most experience) was undoubtedly Rusty Martin, who played Dylan Mitchell, the son of Adam Mitchell (Kendrick), the main character. He didn’t have a lot of lines, but he delivered them well and the subtly of his derisive and dismissive looks were perfect. He performed like a real teenager would in the situations of his character.
- The cinematography was excellent. The HD format brought out a richness to the film that few other low budget productions are able to emulate. The close-ups and camera angles didn’t distract the viewer, but rather accentuated the film and made the emotions even more real. In the shootout scene, the gunfire, the broken glass, the chaos, and even the physical altercations were all accentuated by the filmmaking, leading to heightened senses and racing pulses for the moviegoers.
- The message was clear – Biblically-faithful fathers are vital in the lives of their sons and daughters. But it wasn’t forced or contrived. The viewer saw struggle, conflict, emotion, victory, and joy, but none of it came without honest heartache and realistic storytelling. Regardless of whether one is a Christian or not, this film leads the male viewer to reassess his character and his role as a father. And in that way the message came through loud and clear.
With any lower budget film, especially those produced by Hollywood outsiders, there are going to be issues. And with any Christian film specifically written to reach a broader audience, there are going to be some elements that appear more secular than sacred.Courageousis no exception to these two rules.
- While the acting has certainly improved, it is by no means Oscar-quality. Alex Kendrick, as the main character, was much more believable this time around, but he’s still a bit stiff and at times unnatural. Whenever his character attempts humor, it looks forced. He seems much more comfortable with dramatic scenes. And at times, he’s very good in those aspects of the film; other times, not so much. I thought Ken Bevel was great again, but there are times when he sounds like he’s reading lines instead of actually acting. And, like most films unfortunately, the worst acting comes from the supporting cast. In this case, it was the Latino couple, Javier and Carmen Martinez (played by Robert Amaya and Angelita Nelson). I really wanted to believe in their performance, but it was just too cheesy at times. At other times, it was far too stereotypical, though some of the fault there may lie with the writers. However, having said that, it is true that one of the best scenes in the film (and certainly the funniest) was delivered by Amaya in the back of the patrol car.
- The timeline of the film seemed to be completely ignored at times. I couldn’t figure out how much time elapsed between the beginning of the film, the tragedy, the signing of the resolution, and the shootout. Sometimes it seemed like the events took place over a series of a few weeks. At other times it seemed like months had passed. Some events took too long to materialize (the young officer’s reconnection with his daughter and the Father-Son 5K) and others seemed too short (the young officer’s participation in the resolution ceremony, and partner officer’s imprisonment). This was certainly a detail to which the filmmakers should have paid more attention.
- With any Christian movie, there are sappy elements that fit in better in a low-budget, secular film and Courageous unfortunately contains a couple of these. One such sappy moment is the solo dancing scene at the bank by Adam Mitchell (Kendrick). Other elements often found in Christian movies are the contrived “Evangelism” and “Spiritual Advice” scenes. The presentation of the Gospel by Bevel’s character is far too scripted and delivered with too much stiffness. The pastor’s advice to Kendrick’s character lacks strong Biblical conviction. It’s sounds a lot like what a secular hospital chaplain would say. The Bible is merely referenced at times and rarely quoted. As a pastor, I am disappointed that there is not more uniquely Biblical speech in the movie. It often sounds too much like a Hallmark card and not enough like Pilgrim’s Progress.
Despite some glaring problems with the film, I would grade it a B+ or 4.25 stars. It was by far the best Sherwood production and indicates how bright the genre of Christian film is becoming. The message of the movie was presented well and, like any good movie, with strong emotion. I would see this movie again and highly recommend it to any Christian. Men should especially go and see this movie and I pray that its impact is far-reaching in Evangelicalism. Thanks to the Kendrick brothers and Sherwood pictures for producing a film for which Evangelicals can be proud.