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Courageous (Movie Review)

Reviewed by Matthew Lee Anderson –

The real story of Courageous, the third movie from the good folks at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, isn’t the story that’s portrayed in Courageous. Rather, it’s that this is the third movie by Sherwood Baptist Church. Their first offering, Facing the Giants, says enough in the title about their plucky approach to disrupting the Hollywood establishment.  Turns out that if you make it family friendly, they will come.

It’s hard to be critical of such earnestness, and if ever a film was in earnest, this is it. It is full of the good-hearted sincerity and frank speech that makes evangelicalism (at it’s best) quirky and humorously belligerent.  There’s no “use words if necessary” mentality about the Gospel here:  the film overflows with so many Gospel proclamations and “come-to-Jesus” moments that at points they felt hilariously awkward. 

The film follows the stories of four fathers who take vows of intentional fatherhood after one of them loses a child.  Yet by the end of the film, the plot feels secondary:  it’s more a sermon packaged as a character study that ends with an actual sermon. 

Oddly, it kind of works.  But only kind of.  Chesterton sometimes treated his plots as simply opportunities for other characters to make Chestertonian speeches, but Courageous (alas) has no Chesterton.  Many of the lines are simply clichés, and the lack of subtlety makes the sermonizing worse.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the writing gets best when they drop the guise and simply give the sermon at the end.  But that isn’t quite good filmmaking.

The absence of subtlety gives the film a slightly overbaked feeling.  Or perhaps a really overbaked feeling, depending on how you like your dough.  Consider the central grieving scene: it’s a delicate thing, grieving, to show on film but they pull it off surprisingly well.  At least for a while.  At the precise moment I was impressed with how well they showed the parents heartache, they kept it going another five minutes.  Yet that extra five minutes gave it a saccharine schmaltziness that undid the previous work.

The film is by no means bad.  It has some scenes that are excellently acted and one that was downright hilarious.  However, it simply has no sense of limits, no awareness of when the Gospel proclamations pass from genuine to browbeating and where the acting morphs from stirring into schlock.  For an evening at the theater or with the DVD, you could certainly do worse (and many Hollywood productions do, in fact, do worse).  But the upstart church could also do better, and with the success of this and their other ventures, there’s hope that they yet will. 

Matthew Lee Anderson is the author of author of Earthen Vessels and a writer at Mere Orthodoxy.

This review was taken from the January issue of Credo Magazine, “In Christ Alone.” Read other reviews like it today!

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