If you're a fan of faith-based cinema, then by now you're almost certain to be familiar with the remarkable folks at Sherwood Baptist Church. Back in 2003, Sherwood Baptist Church kicked off what has become widely recognized as one of the nation's premiere film ministries with their film Flywheel,
a relatively low-budget yet promising film co-written by Alex and Stephen Kendrick. Alex Kendrick also directed and starred in the film, about a used car salesman who gets caught with his less than honest business practices and must return money to his customers with some incredibly surprising results.
Okay, okay. So Flywheel
was, on many levels, your stereotypical Christian film. Flywheel
was preachy and a bit saccharine in its approach to real life. Flywheel
was different, though. Beneath the syrupy Hallmark sentimentality and hit-and-miss acting, the film proved that a Christian film could be both faithful and real. Flywheel
was only modestly successful, but it was successful enough that it opened the door for Sherwood's burgeoning movie ministry to grow.
Then, came Facing the Giants.
Produced on the incredibly modest budget of $100,000, Facing the Giants
made Sherwood Baptist Church, the Kendrick brothers and Sony's newfound faith division, Provident Films, a household name by collecting an impressive $10+ million at the box-office and being even more successful on home video. The film utilized an entirely volunteer cast, this film about high school football struck a chord with American audiences while Sherwood's improvement as a movie ministry showed with better acting, better production quality and a film that managed to have mass appeal while being loyal to its faith-based roots.
Sherwood's last film, Fireproof,
was produced on a higher budget, estimated at $500,000, and featured Kirk Cameron in the lead role as a firefighter struggling to pay as much attention to his wife as he does his career. Despite being almost universally regarded as less critically successful than Facing the Giants,
the film again succeeded at the box-office by collecting $33 million and creating a bit of a cottage industry of books, videos, etc. around the central theme of "The Love Dare." This was the first film where Alex Kendrick wasn't in the lead, and while Cameron's background on television likely attracted more of an audience it would be hard to deny that Kendrick's earthiness and more natural acting style works far more successfully in the framework of a Sherwood film.
Now, here we come to Courageous.
Let's start off with the platitudes. Courageous
is the best film yet from Sherwood Pictures. Courageous
succeeds where so many faith-based films have failed ... by weaving faith into real life and painting realistic portraits of touchingly real and fully alive human beings. Yes, faith is absolutely front and center in Courageous
and if that bothers you then it may not be the film for you. However, if faith is a part of life or, for that matter, if you can simply appreciate a film where faith is a central theme then Courageous
is a film that you will appreciate, embrace, celebrate and truly enjoy.
Alex Kendrick is back, and that awkwardly fumbling yet endearing actor from Flywheel
has grown into an assured yet tender screen presence who resonates deeply as Adam Mitchell, a small town police officer who has grown a bit distant from his children largely owing to his relentless dedication to keeping the streets safe. His fellow officers include newbie Nathan Hayes (Ken Bevel), who recently relocated from Atlanta to give his family a quieter life, along with David Thomson (Ben Davies) and Shane Fuller (Kevin Downes). These are four good men who haven't always been the best of fathers, but when tragedy strikes, these men must face the truths of their lives and decide once and for all if they are going to grow into the fathers they are called to be.
Produced on a still modest production budget estimated at $1 million, Courageous
proves that a filmmaker with heart, conviction, integrity and, in this case, faith can trump a high budget or unnecessary techno distractions. Had Sherwood bent to the ways of contemporary Hollywood, they might've decided to take those profits from the last two films and make a "bigger and better" film this time around. Somehow, they've managed to maintain their ministry focus and it's that love, discipline, faithfulness and commitment that shines through every frame of Courageous.
In addition to Kendrick's best performance yet, Courageous
features an exceptional ensemble cast with Ken Bevel particularly standing out among the officers along with Robert Amaya, as a down-on-his-luck handyman who finds his life changing when he sort of stumbles into Adam's life. Renee Jewell, Rusty Martin Jr. and Angelita Nelson also shine as supporting players.
If you're looking for a film that never preaches, Courageous
isn't it. Especially as these men grow into their roles as fathers, the film's faith comes fully alive and takes a place front-and-center on the big screen. For some of you, there's no question this will be a turn-off and, perhaps, will make you avoid the film. So be it. Yet, there's an awesomeness in the faith that is fully lived into in Courageous, a
faith and spiritual walk that is not always easy but is always sought. These men, indeed all the characters in the film, are fully human beings with strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows, successes and failures. That's ultimately why the film really works, because it shows families and adults and children and men and women all trying to live out their faith in ways that, for the most part, feel remarkably real and deeply authentic.
Being a cop unquestionably takes bravery, but being a father takes a level of surrender and vulnerability and courage that has always astounded me. For those of you who are fathers, Courageous
will make you celebrate it. For those of you who aren't fathers, Courageous
may make you crave it. For those of you who've lost your fathers or lost you children, Courageous
may simply make you weep.
After a successful theatrical run, Courageous
arrives on home video on January 17, 2012. The DVD packaging is, quite honestly, astoundingly generous for what is still an independent film. There are over two hours of life and faith-affirming materials included (see the complete list in the credits of this review). My favorites? The bloopers (Yes, it's true. Christians really do laugh!) and the commentary, where you really do get a glimpse into the heart and soul of the Kendrick brothers and this marvelous ministry. A tremendous film for fathers to share with their sons and daughters, Courageous
is yet further evidence of the ever growing faith-based cinema community and an absolutely tremendous choice for church youth and Bible study groups to share, discuss and really experience.
For more information, visit the Courageous website
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic