This is part of a series of articles I will be publishing this week on “Courageous.” A rhetorical critique will come out later this week as well as critique about the type of Christian associations the Kendricks have choose to align with.
One star for decent action sequences and being better than my expectations (although they were incredibly low when I went to see it).
The Kendrick brothers new movie Courageous is suspiciously similar to the 2004 film Crash, except that it’s a very poor knockoff. Running at 2 hours and 10 minutes, the film should have been a good half hour shorter. However, I guess the filmmakers thought by inserting an exciting chase scene in the beginning, middle, and end of the film that it would be enough to keep the audience engaged.
The plot revolves around the lives for four cops and one construction worker who form an unlikely friendship. Together these men go through trials in both their professional and personal lives. Yet, unlike Crash, which
manages to weave together multiple plots and characters with skill, the Kendrick’s film leaves lose ends and undeveloped characters. Additionally, the film is too heavy on sermons and too light on substantial dialogue or plot development. In their attempt to create a diverse group of actors that bridge multiple cultures and social issues the film falls into the age-old problem of stereotyping.
We have Javier Martinez (Robert Amya), the blue-collar construction Latino worker with a strong accent. Then there is the young deputy David Thomson (Ben Davies) whose only plot point is that he’s one of the youngest men on the police force and about half through the film we find out he knocked up a cheerleader in college and left her to raise their daughter by herself. He encouraged her to get an abortion, but instead she chose to keep the baby –making her the “courageous” one in the relationship. However, even that relationship falls into stereotypes. We see her later as a single mother who works as a waitress and lives in a trailer. Finally, there is Nathan Hayes (Ken Bevel), the African-American cop, and newbie on the police force. Nathan is by far the most dynamic actor out of the main cast. The dialogue between he and his wife Kayla (Eleanor Brown) is witty and their marriage the most stable. Together they handle conflicts that arise with their children. Yet, the Kendricks can’t allow Nathan’s character to remain stereotype free. No, we have to throw in the fact that Nathan never knew his dad who had six children with five different women.
Over the past decade or two evangelical Christians have tried to “take back” the film industry by producing counter-cultural films that are supposed to be both entertaining and educational. Too often, as is the case with the Kendrick film, the movies fall short of having an actual plot and fill in the holes with random, awkward moments of preaching. A good story is always driven by action, by music that relates to the plot, by witty, clever dialogue and finally by showing and not preaching. An example of where the Kendricks go wrong is in a scene between the main character Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick) and his son Dylan (Rusty Martin, Jr.). They are out running together and stop mid-run for Adam to preach to his son about standing firm in his faith and not being scared to stand alone for what he believes. Dylan listens intently and then they start running again. Not only is the scene melodramatic and sappy, but it’s unrealistic. No one stops mid run for a heart-to-heart with their running companion. You either are in good enough shape to run and talk at the same time (which Adam wasn’t) or you wait until after the run and chat over Gatorade. This is only one of many such scenes that could have been cut.
The numerous heart to heart backyard male bonding sessions over steak and pop are drawn out. The sheriff preaching a sermon to his forces about absentee fathers early in the film and encouraging his staff to go home and take care of their families isn’t realistic and unnecessary. The film illustrates this point again and again through various scenes. The audience doesn’t need a sermon about the affects of an absentee parent at least three times during the film. Show it to us; don’t tell us.
Finally, the film is a thinly veiled attempt at commercialization. While it was branded as an “outreach event” for churches, the film’s target audience is clearly white, middle class evangelicals who will say “Amen” when they watch the film. If it was really was meant for outreach then the Kendricks (who after two other semi-successful Christian films have plenty of connections) should have pushed for donors to cover the production and distribution costs and offered the video free online or on DVD to churches to screen on their own. The price of an admission ticket at the local theater is not something everyone can afford.
Several scenes in the film were clearly marketing products associated with the film. Beautifully framed covenants for men to sign, pledging to be good fathers, are displayed on a table prior to the men’s commitment ceremony. You, too, can own one of these framed resolutions to hang prominently in your home for around $60 from www.outreach.com. If the resolution seems a bit pricy then perhaps your church will want to spend money and buy the “Living Courageously” Bible study kit. Each book is around $10 and the teacher’s kit is $17 on Amazon. There is also a companion novel from the film and a soundtrack. Nothing is free. If this film is meant to be an outreach tool, it’s an outreach tool for the middle class and wealthy. As usual, evangelical society has produced just another film that preaches to the choir and will be thrown into the church library as “acceptable” family entertainment for years to come. Heaven forbid we learn how to craft an actual artistic film that can present a moral message in the subtle, complex style of C..S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien. But wait, C.S. Lewis was Anglican and Tolkien was a Catholic. Maybe it’s just not in the evangelical DNA to understand that there is more to making a good film than a sermon.