Courageous: better camera work, same old cliches

I encourage you to look back through the archives of BoxOfficeBoredom.com and you will find that I’ve never been too shy about my Christian faith.  However, with that being said I keep my focus on dissecting the successes and failures of all types of cinema without being biased towards violence, language, sexual content or MPAA rating.    Over the years I have had people question my faith and the film choices of myself and my peers.   For some reason, Christians feel they must rally around and proclaim that overtly Christian films are the only great pieces of cinema.   I’ve never been one to herald a film as great just because of it’s attempts to honor God.

I’ve addressed many of my issues with surrounding projects like the Sherwood Film’s pictures in our Fireproof The Giants like Potatoes (Our Christian Movie Themed) Podcast.  For those who haven’t heard it, I encourage you to check out a great discussion between myself and a Christian Pastor on faith in films.    During that podcast, we spoke of Sherwood Films upcoming project, Courageous, which is now on DVD.  Sherwood films has turned into a true David and Goliath story;  It’s the tale of two Pastors Alex and Stephen Kendrick who decided to write, direct and star in Christian themed films for theatrical release.  Their pictures, Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof and now Courageous all boast a lower budget with a huge return on investment for the studios.  Sherwood films may not be pulling in A list stars and making summer blockbuster profits, but they are highly successful for the original investment by all parties.

Courageous is their latest attempt at film making staring co-writer Alex Kendrick and some other familiar unknown faces from their previous films.  The film is about police officers who all take an oath to become better fathers after tragedy strikes close to home.  It’s a noble attempt at the subject and is somewhat inspirational.  However, I think like all of Sherwood’s attempt they miss the mark at broad appeal.  I love the fact that these guys aren’t afraid to outwardly show their faith and have characters consulting their Bibles or mentioning God in their films.  However, the film becomes so heavy handed with it’s attempt that it actually becomes  way too preachy.  In fact, Courageous is probably the most preachy of all of their films to date.

I always feel that Sherwood films is making self serving films for a self serving audience.   The phrase “preaching to the choir” comes to mind when watching one of their films.  The fathers and families going to Courageous are already light years ahead of the absentee fathers that this film is trying to encourage.  In fact, I doubt the people that could use the message are ever really going to see the film because it preaches to them for 2 plus hours.  While it is a nice message, I always feel like the makers of these films are sitting around slapping each other on the back and boasting how they are doing God’s will and reaching millions with their films.  In reality, they are rallying the base with heavy handed miraculous conversion speeches  and in the case of Courageous beating you over the head with the bible by ending with an inspirational call to action sermon.

What I can say about Courageous is that the Sherwood Films crew are starting to find their way around the camera.  The film is actually fairly well put together for the budget.   We still have plenty of issues with poorly lit scenes and over blown, stereotyped villains but things have much improved since Facing the Giants.  Some of this has to do with more financial backing, but I accredit much of this to Sherwood just finally getting into the groove of making a Hollywood film.    Even acting has gotten much better.  Kendrick is a likable character and his co-stars and fellow members of his parish have all vastly honed their skills since their debut.  Now I wouldn’t be expecting Kendrick to be up for an Academy Award for achievement in acting any time soon but anyone who has followed his filmography can see the improvement with each film under his belt.  Kendrick and company even found a couple of ways of injecting sucessful comedy scenes into the film such as the mix up with  hiring the wrong “Javier” to build his garden shed.  Scenes like this work well; they pointing out how certain situations and mistakes can be God’s way of interjecting in our daily lives to make lasting friendships and providing hope while still mixing in some great laughs. The problem is, I wanted more of them. You got the point, had a great laugh and it worked in sharing the message. Less is more, and in Courageous I think we needed more of less.

I liked Courageous and what it was trying to achieve, but I still have huge problems with these films.  They are too heavy handed and are never going to reach a non-believer audience because of their seemingly, preachy, standoffish approach at Christianity.  Subtlety is a word that the Kendricks have either never heard of or attempted and a lesson they could stand to learn.   For some reason the Kendricks feel you can’t make it 5 minutes without a reference to God, the bible, a Third Day song montage or a sermon attempt.  I admire them for their love of the Lord, and their desire to share everything that he has done in their lives with others but I still feel they are going after non-believers with a metaphorical sledge hammer rather than a Bible and out pourings of love.  I’ve actually championed Facing the Giants as a good film.  It suffers some of the same troubles as Courageous, but it seems to be a more complete and inspiring film meant for the masses.  Courageous feels like the Kendricks pat on the back for rounding up the budget to give the base a rousing sermon and a thematic performance.

I certainly didn’t hate Courageous.  In fact there are moments I really liked. However the end result for me was that Courageous was one of the worst films in Sherwood’s repertoire.  I just don’t see any forward progress in storytelling to go with the increased technical achievements that company has made.  The message is good; the product is getting better.  The problem now is instead of trying to find new ways to reign in more people to hear the message, Sherwood is trying hard to keep tossing in all the Biblical buzzwords and scenes that rally the base and drive the new comers away from the product all together.

One thought on “Courageous: better camera work, same old cliches

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