I have to completely let go of my professor/film critic hat when I talk about this movie. That’s OK, and it’s not just because I am a Christian or that I have a little (tiny, actually) connection with one of the actors. (Kevin Downes, who plays Shane Fuller in the film, was in my office with his brother Bobby a few years ago discussing the possibility of shooting a film in our region of upstate/Western New York).
It’s because this film is something different from almost every other kind of film. It’s a feel-bad, feel-good sermon, and it completely works on that level. It’s not meant to entertain, though it’s as touching to a Christian dad as any film I’ve ever seen. It’s not trying to be “work of art,” but it has one comic scene involving the question “Do you?” between actors Robert Amaya (Javier) and Alex Kendrick (Adam) that is a good an exchange as found in any comedy anywhere.
The most striking feature of the film is what makes it such a great experience for an evangelical Christian, and a Christian dad in particular It’s so unabashedly Christian, and isn’t the least bit subtle, coy, or hesitant about it. For someone who believes that Jesus is the center of the universe, as does the author, that makes this film a joy to experience. The acting is OK at best (except for the aforementioned scene). The script is meandering and wildly unfocused at times, with too many stories trying to be told. The film looks good, but none of the technical elements is particularly noteworthy.. But for someone who believes in Christ, it’s the most powerful film to come along in ages. It hits hard, hurts some, and makes its impact loud and painfully clear.
“Christian films”—those aimed specifically at a Christian market—are manifestly improving, and there are offshoots of that genre that can easily be categorized as tight independent films with an increasingly Christian worldview behind them (e.g., Like Dandelion Dust). Then there are those films that embrace the idea or experience of faith within a Christian context (see The Way by Emilio Estevez or Vera Farmiga’s Higher Ground) that are moving into Robert Bresson or Carl Dreyer territory. There’s so much going on in the area of faith, and specifically, Christianity, in films that we can only notice the growth as well as the breadth of expression. If we’re looking at only one strand—“Christian films,” films primarily about faith, films tangentially about faith—we’re missing the tapestry of topics that are being investigated and the increasingly complex and fine work being done in unexpected corners.
Courageous is clearly in the classic “Christian film” category. And while folks are rightly saying that they are improving and are, to many of my friends, as enjoyable as a Disney film, it can’t come close to most mainstream “Hollywood” films. Doesn’t matter. This is a different animal, with a completely different aim. Go, Sherwood Pictures, go. Keep it up, keep improving, and keep making the kinds of films that are on your hearts to make.