Fireproof and Facing the Giants creators Alex and Stephen Kendrick have taken the stage, or perhaps quite plainly – the pulpit – once again. This time their movie is Courageous, where Alex Kendrick helms in ultra uber-hyphenate form as director, actor and co-writer. In this fourth outing, the brothers live up to their reputations as auteurs of long, expository dialogue, preachy over the top proselytizing, and plots no less contrived than daytime soap operas. Nevertheless these formulas seem to work with predominantly Christian audiences, which is why Courageous is still playing on over 1100 screens after six weeks in the theaters.
The movie provides an array of characters and story lines, all taking place in Albany, Georgia. The aforementioned Alex Kendrick stars as Adam Mitchell, a father and police officer who goes along in his life rather phlegmatically. He gravitates to his nine year old daughter Emily (Lauren Etchells), due to her warm, sunny disposition. The bond with his fifteen year old son, Dylan (Rusty Martin), on the other hand, is unraveling. His fellow officer, Nathan Hayes (Ken Bevel) possesses more zest and purpose in his life. His values are clear cut, razor sharp, especially in dealing with a suspicious young male caller of his fifteen year old daughter’s. And Robert Amaya’s character, Javier, rounds out the cast in a heartfelt portrayal of an immigrant who is strapped financially but flourishing in spiritual faith and personal integrity.
The Mitchell family suffers a shocking personal blow in the first half of the film. It rattles Adam to his emotional and spiritual core which then awakens a part of himself that has been asleep at the wheel thus far. He’s driven to start anew and formulates a written “Resolution” that will hold him accountable as a man and father. Upon sharing the resolution with his police buddies, they form a band of brotherhood and swear allegiance to the resolution as a pact to themselves and to their families. The men are tested in various ways, and the film ends in vibrant, dramatic fashion with Kendrick’s character taking the church podium to give a beseeching kick to the congregation – and to the world – of the importance of fathers in the lives of their children.
While the film is highly emotive and human, the Kendrick brothers, who are pastors of Sherwood Baptist Church in real life, are marketing blood-hounds. Their product placement runs rampant throughout their films and no less does it here with Courageous. What are they marketing? Well, take the movie Iron Man, for instance, where the product was Audi. Just imagine instead of Audis on screen left and right, crucifixes are displayed in the most obvious manner imaginable: on walls, around necks, on walls…. The product is Jesus, and they want you to buy. Alex and Stephen Kendrick possess many gifts of the spirit, subtlety is not one of them.
Piggybacking off the success of the book, Love Dare, spawned by Fireproof, the “Resolution” is the complement to this film. It harkens back to the clever marketing tool of its predecessor. What the Love Dare did for Fireproof, the “Resolution” will do for Courageous. In whatever capacity it’s marketed, consumers will be snatching up copies of “The Resolution” off store book shelves or consumer websites. Though clever and business savy, it’s hard not to feel like one is auditing a Christian seminar on marriage or parenting instead of enjoying a marketable piece of entertainment.
Courageous is a solid B film. While its technical and artistic aspects leave much to be desired, the emotions are raw and real. The Kendricks are far from receiving any Oscars, but clearly that’s not their objective, at least for the moment. Some audiences may not appreciate the direct Christian agenda, however for many others it could be just what their hearts and minds are looking for. Let’s hope eventually someday that the Kendrick brothers will have improved their technique to incorporate artistry and subtlety to less overt message-y material.