Monday, January 27, 2014
IMDb plot summary: When a tragedy strikes close to home, four police officers struggle with their faith and their roles as husbands and fathers; together they make a decision that will change all of their lives.
Directed by Alex Kendrick. Starring Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Ben Davies, and Kevin Downes.
All right. My disclaimer first: I am a Christian, but I don't like Christian movies. I'm very sensitive to movies that feel obviously preachy, and every single one of the movies by this Christian studio have done that, on top of having pretty amateurish writing and acting. So I didn't have high hopes for this movie, though I tried to go into it with an open mind.
In the end, though, the main issue with this movie is that it REALLY lacked focus. In the other movies from this group, at least their message has been clear, if forced. In this one, the message is a very, very vague "be a better father." While in most message movies, this would be demonstrated by showing, say, examples of people being good fathers and examples of people being bad fathers, that doesn't happen here. Instead, the events of the story are connected to the message in almost no way at all.
Consider the fact that even though the entire story is supposedly about these men deciding to be better fathers, we get hardly any scenes of them actually interacting with their children. We get a 1-minute scene of Adam giving a one-sentence "Follow God all the time" pep talk to his son, and a 3-minute scene where Nathan takes his daughter out to dinner to give her a purity ring. We only ever see Javier interact with his wife - I'm not even entirely sure how many children he HAS or what genders they are. How in the world do you tell a story about fathers learning to be fathers without showing them BEING fathers?
Instead, the movie spends most of its time showing the men sitting around talking vaguely about taking a stand and serving the Lord. Occasionally they discuss their relationships with their own fathers, but, of course, we don't SEE any of that.
There are no concrete, straightforward examples of any of the abstract concepts they talk about, and it's not like there aren't opportunities. Two characters late in the movie must make tough decisions that may make life more difficult for them, and although the movie seems to be setting it up as "make this choice so you will be a good example for your children" scenario... we once again NEVER SEE how it impacts the children. Ever. So... was that not the message? Was that subplot about doing the right thing just completely unconnected to the plot about being a father?
(Incidentally, this movie DOES also fall into the same frustrating trap as its predecessors, indicating that once you decide to start following God, everything will magically work out for you. It's only BEFORE you start following God that bad things happen. I don't mind happy endings, but this is a pattern in their movies, and when repeated over and over again, it bothers me.)
All throughout, the events of the plot seem weirdly unconnected to the message it's trying to send, making it, unfortunately, not even a good message movie. Fireproof may have felt like an ad for a "fix your marriage in 30 days" program, but at least I knew what it wanted me to do. I could tell you the steps. I have no idea what Courageous wants its viewers to do, specifically, just that they should "be good fathers." But they won't tell you what that entails.
(Also, as a side note, what courageous father-related thing did ANY of these people do, except for Nathan saving his son at the very beginning? Any other courageous thing they did had NOTHING to do with being a parent. I feel like the movie was assigned this title and then several subplots got cut and it no longer applied but they kept it.)
On the positive side, the acting has improved from previous efforts. The action sequences are pretty well-handled. The movie does have a moment or two that hits the right emotional nerve - surprisingly, a few of those moments are about dealing with grief, something these movies have never handled well. Kudos to them there, and those all earn them their star rating. But those moments are not enough to bring the movie together into a cohesive whole, and overall, it's a mess, both as a drama and as a message movie. Unfortunate. 1.5 star.
Flickchart: #1818 out of 2004, below A Walk to Remember and above Boys Town, though this is perhaps unfairly low, because I think A Walk to Remember is slightly too low on my list.
Rent on Amazon for $2.99.