Courageous (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Courageous (2011)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site

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A few days ago I got a call from one of my oldest and dearest friends. He announced to me that he was going to be a father for the first time, and I was happy for him: he and his wife are going to create some awesome kids, so long as they generationally tone down the Wilco love.

But, and I can't help but admit this, I was a little jealous. Fatherhood from the outside appears to be a grand challenge, an event that tests one's ability to raise a child who's not an asshole, who is happy and easy going, and, of course, one who I can live vicariously through as my own soul withers and dies.

But, for some men, fatherhood doesn't seem like a calling. For some it's a byproduct of sex, for others it's an unwelcome burden. I can understand that; Courageous is about asking those men to rethink those perspectives. Odds are you haven't heard too much about Courageous if you don't listen to the preacher's sermons on Sunday, since this is a film that's aimed squarely between the eyes (and below the belt) of the churchgoing public. It's been produced by the team behind the laughable Fireproof, that book sales pitch from a few years back starring Kirk Cameron. There he played either a log or a firefighter, I'm not sure.

Regular Can't Stop the Movies writer Jacob Anderson makes a very special cameo.

Freed of the burden of Kirk Cameron's rather questionable acting and/or sanity, director/producer/star Alex Kendrick suddenly has a broader canvas to deal with. Courageous takes this and runs with it, creating a film narrative that, metaphorically, looks like a tower built out of the leftover cushions of a dozen old couches.

The film first follows the the story of Adam (Kendrick), a sheriff's deputy whose life outside of work falls firmly into the apathy category. There are also his buddies: Nathan (Ken Bevel), a hardnosed new transfer who never knew his dad, David (Ben Davies), a rookie atheist who has a dark secret, Javier (Robert Amaya), the Mexican buddy who needs a good job, and Shane (Kevin Downes), who is the squinty-eyed child of divorce who is divorced himself.

With all of these characters and their families loading things upon on the top, the movie ricochets between plots, with entire storylines emerging and disappearing at random. One leaves off in the first half hour of the movie and only makes a reappearance in the last ten minutes. Other plots begin and end within five minutes, curious cul-de-sacs leaving characters with a shrug.

This usually does not happen when you are trying to do crazy film making things like "build tension," but Kendrick seems to disregard cinematic conventions with an almost intoxicating reckless abandon.  It's obviously not a film in love with cinematic lexicon and lore, but one that uses its strengths when necessary. The chases and action sequences (in a Christian film, I know) are cut beautifully, and though some compositions are remarkably cheesy (I get it, God's supposed to be in the right side of the frame), and Kendrick needs to use a tripod a little more often, the film looks better than its pedigree would suggest.

Yes, I directed, produced, and starred in this. Looking like I do, that is in and of itself is a bold choice this day in age.

There are also genuine laughs to be found in Courageous, which is a surprise. There are also unintentional moments of comedy, as when a dirty cop is uncovered in less than a few minutes or one officer takes his teenage daughter takes her out to a nice dinner and gives her a diamond ring. It's a purity ring, but the way that scene is shot makes it look a little too... not pure.

And it's this kind of eclectic nature that will make this movie work for the non-Christians in the audience. But are there parts that they might find offensive?

Well, there are problems that come from making a film all about the divine and important duty of Fatherhood, most implicitly that any film that talks up Fatherhood is also kind of dialing down the love for Motherhood. None of the mothers in this film seem to have day jobs, and instead almost-universally yell at their children while pleading for their husbands to engage them. While none of the women are regarded as nagging or even disagreeable to an extent, their roles here are limited as is their importance.

More noticeably, and probably more offensive, is that we have yet another Christian film that regards the change from atheism to deism as a two minute in-and-out service. Luckily, as it's treated here, we get to see Nathan take David to the side and convert him in only a few pointed sentences. David is such a hapless idiot though, it's not hard to fault him; his resistance to Christianity was token at best, and the guy seems like such a dunderhead that it's hard to get mad about it. He had no strong feelings, so sourcing out some new ones is character development rather than regression.

This guy is hilarious any way. I was surprised he hasn't been in more films. He's like a good Haratio Sanz.

To be quite honest, the thing that makes me resist the film the most is that it seems to have an underlying resentment of those divorced; writing them off as weak or not trying hard enough. I really have trouble believing that apathy is the real reason marriages fall apart, but this movie seems hellbent to insist on it--not surprising since the same men made a mint off insisting on it in Fireproof, another movie that spent its entire running time laboriously insisting upon the same rather insulting belief.

The purpose of Kendrick's filmography so far seems to be to find a flaw common in most Christian lives, recreate it, and console it. He creates something brief, fun, but intensely marketable that addresses those issues in a calm, protective manner. It works in Courageous because he isn't afraid to get messy and let the edges bleed, and for the most part, his messages are quite good.

But will this movie do any good? I'm not sure. Anyone who goes out to see a movie about men wanting to be better fathers is probably someone already committed enough to it that it won't make a difference. Essentially we have a film that's preaching to the choir, but as a a quick, urgent reminder in the form of a family-grade action film, Courageous is surprisingly, amazingly enjoyable.

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Posted by Danny

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  1. Dont agree with some of your comments, the woman weak? No, silently strong, the men trying to do the best they can but knowing they lack something, Even if you are not a Christian, alot of other faiths, like Budhism,African religion ect makes an earnest apeal on a good solid homebase foundation, I agree with this film, children are a byproduct of their circumstances and as a teacher you pick this up I once had a great English teacher who told us she can tell from what homes children come out of by their behaviour. yeh right, I thought well since then being a teacher for many years I found that saying very true the most troubled children are the ones from broken homes, and no father figures. And that is a fact! And yes people get divorced too easily, really most couples should change the vows to; for better or better, health and in health, ect people has lost their fighting spirit and promises really just another word! This film succeeded in its purpose! I woud rather watch a film where you can personally learn something from a good clean film with no bad language, funny Javier without hitting below the belt,than a movie-blockbuster hit of the week and forgotten tommorrow! And really if you are not a religious person ,dont watch the movie! You will not like it, after all you will never find a vegetarian working in a butchary! 🙂

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