I’m an admitted skeptical critic of “Christian films.” The Fifth Quarter and To Save A Life are the only movies that fit that description which have merited a recommendation on my part. Sherwood Films is the leading maker of Christian films commercially, with success in Facing the Giants and Fireproof. The first one didn’t impress me (I don’t believe God picks winners in sports) and I never saw the second (I can’t take Kirk Cameron seriously as an actor since Growing Pains). So my expectations were noticeably low for Sherwood’s Courageous but it came highly recommended and a free copy landed on my doorstep, practically calling me to watch it. Could it actually raise the bar for “Christian film?”
Courageous revolves around five men, sheriff’s deputies Adam (Alex Kendrick who wrote, produce, and directed the other Sherwood films as well), Nathan (Ken Bevel, Fireproof), Shane Fuller (Kevin Downes), and David Thomson (Ben Davies), and handyman Javier (Robert Amaya). The five men grow closer after the death of Adam’s daughter in a traffic accident, and gradually begin to explore what it looks like for them to be Godly men and fathers, specifically. There’s as much humor as can be wrapped into a story like this (Amaya is a revelation) and the action shots of the police officers at work is better than anything I’ve seen of this genre before.
The film succeeds at a higher level than those that came before it because it doesn’t pretend to be an “invite your non-Christian friends to the movies” type of thing. Instead, it’s a call to arms for men who are churchgoing, whether they are really believing in something eternal or just guys who go through the motions while ignoring any kind of spiritual revelation during the rest of the week. Adam’s proposal is a fatherhood version of the real-life proposal made in the book Samson & The Pirate Monks which bonds a small group of men together in an accountability group aimed at purity. I’m honestly not sure whether or not it has an accompanying “manual” like The Love Dare parallels the message of Fireproof.
I have to admit that the film aims high, and there aren’t any men who aren’t covered. The group is multicultural, of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and levels of belief (understanding of what it means to be “godly”). But it also covers men who are divorced, single, parents of teens, parents of younger kids, etc. There are separations by space and custody of their children; there are separations of attitude and emotional responsibility. But there isn’t a guy watching the film who can’t see himself reflecting as either the father or the child.
The Blu-ray covers a bunch of special features like the “making of,” various takes on the meaning, deleted scenes, commentary, and outtakes (did I mention this one is significantly funnier than previous ones?). Fans of the storyline will appreciate that retrospective, and fans of CCM (contemporary Christian music) will appreciate the tie-ins by their favorite bands (Third Day, Casting Crowns). I don’t know how far this would fly outside of specifically Christian circles, but it should prove thought-provoking in a discussion starter way for groups of men (or families). It’s not a film I can say I’d sit down and watch for fun again, but it’s definitely quality, and raises the bar for storytelling in the future of “Christian films.”
My argument all along has been that if a film has a message it should be of high quality regardless if it wants to be received and understood. Courageous tells a solid story AND shares the message of salvation by the life and death of Jesus Christ, and the commitment of men to being solid fathers. Does it sometimes monologue too long? Sure! But so do plenty of other movies with an intent to sell us on their ideology, politics, social leanings, etc. and we still watch them. Finally, we have a “Christian film” which proves to be good art while sharing its message. Regardless of your belief system, asking what it means to be a father or mother (and not just a baby maker) is worth considering as we look to value ourselves and our children. Thanks to Courageous, all of those motives are met in one movie, and that’s something to cheer after watching the film.