Another "Facing the Giants" controversy




Facing the Giants, the film that has stirred up some chatter because it was rated PG for its open references to Christianity, is stirring up even more trouble for cultural commentator and writer Dick Staub.

Staub dared to suggest that, even though Christians had been involved in making and supporting the film, it was still mediocre and unsatisfying. In fact, his words were even stronger… he called it”another artistic embarrassment in the name of Jesus.”

Staub is learning an important lesson: If Christians made it, we cannot publically admit that it is anything less than glorious. He also needs to learn that if a movie moves people, that qualifies it as being of surpassing excellence, and wobetide the man who dares say anything critical about it.

So, now, Staub is receiving the wrath of those who support the film.

The more common reactions were from people who a) loved the evangelistic themes; b) believed we ought to support the effort because it was made by good Christians (“I thought Dick was ‘one of us;’” c) agreed it didn’t meet Hollywood production standards but thought my comments were counterproductive in light of a) and/or b).

For anyone who wants a peek into my mailbag, the following email I received today is an example.

“Your article is offensive at best. What do you expect when the budget is ($)100,000 and the actors are new to the acting profession? I saw the film and there were some scenes that were weak but the story line was exceptional and moving. I saw people openly crying and moved during this movie. They were emotionally involved and impacted. That is more than I can say for the majority of trash that comes from Hollyweird. Maybe they will learn this lesson again. People do not want to see garbage that comes out of movie business incessantly. My hope is that this movie makes a ton of money for Sony and the church in Georgia. They deserve it, just for receiving comments like yours. Keep writing your so-called reviews. It will keep the movie in the press and gain more viewers. Annoyed”

Sigh. I’ve seen people “openly crying” (as opposed to “closed-ly crying”) while watching American Express commercials and lousy sit-coms. People get “emotionally involved and impacted” watching the Miss Teen USA Pageant. Does that mean they’re worthy of high praise, and should be protected against any criticism?

Apparently, if you make a mediocre movie and stamp Jesus’ name on it, it’s automatically worthy of praise.

Round and round we go.

Fight on, Dick Staub. Fight on. You have the wisdom of the Jedi masters. I believe in you.

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  • Alexandre FABBRI

    Did you know that Krzysztof Kieslowski’s actress Irene Jacob also sings?

  • Foolish Knight

    Jeff, you probably already know this, but you have a little picture of yourself next to your review-snippets at Rotten Tomatoes. I saw Roger Ebert’s first then yours.

  • Stuart B

    Casino Royale wasn’t bad…but I’d still consider Goldeneye to be the best Bond movie. Had the best villain at least…

    What was with all the Fords in the movie though?

  • David Williamson

    What do you think of Three Colours Red? For me, it’s a perfect fusion of Double Life and Blue.

  • stephen

    My copy of “Double Life” should be arriving in my mailbox any day now! Glad to hear it doesn’t disappoint, not that Criterion ever does…

  • Tompaul

    I wish “Catch a Fire” had truly dramatized his forgiveness of Robbins’ character, and how his ability to move on without bitterness led to his life today caring for so many orphans (yes, I know any sentence with the word “orphan” in it automatically sounds cliche) instead of just making it a quick written epilogue. That would have been the truly dramatic part.

  • Anonymous

    The real problem with those who continue to bash filmmakers who are Believers is they don’t have a clue about the Word of God. Paul says specifically not to sow discord among brethren. The Bible teaches we should also be extra kind to fellow Believers. Why? WHO ELSE WILL? HOLLYWOOD?

    Most Christians in the United States are really cultural Christians. They get a ‘kick’ out of George Bush more than Yeshua (Jesus Christ). They’re political Christians and this is evident by the kind of attacks on not just ‘Facing the Giants’, but other Christian films.

    One ‘big’ Christian producer even said we shouldn’t ‘preach’ or ‘evangelize’ in movies.

    Can you imagine standing before the Lord someday and when He asks what we did for him, we shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Well, I produced ‘X-Men’. And I also bashed other Christian filmmakers! Where’s my reward?”

    I SERIOUSLY QUESTION whether such people will even be given the gift of salvation. Jesus was very clear that not everyone who says ‘Hey, I’m a Christian, I guess’ will make it in.

    Very sobering thought.

  • mark

    Jeffrey,

    You aren’t keeping the main point the main point and that shows in the way you are arguing with yourself. A great work of art isn’t great because it follows a predetermined set of rules but because it accomplishes its purpose. I pay my auto mechanic when my cars runs right. The fact that I know he is a Christian and he does his work for the Lord is where evangelism takes place. If he doen’t fix my car it doesn’t matter if he is a Christian or not. What is immaterial to the process however is whether or not I like the way he keeps his garage. I don’t care if his tools are hung up the way popular mechanics says to hang them up. I care that my car runs.
    The acting may have been mediocre and every other critism may have been correct, but the movie moved me closer to my Lord. That’s not only the main thing, it’s the only thing.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    “But to call this film ‘another artisitic embarrassment in the name of Jesus’ is so unfair. If Alex Kendrick was a fledgling painter instead of a fledgling film-maker, would you look at his canvas and tell him it was an embarrassment, just because it had weaknesses?”

    No. And Staub’s language is, admittedly, strong. But when the Subject Under Discussion is “A Work of Art” … and the person making the statements is, as part of his vocation, a Reviewer of Art, he has a responsibility to act like a responsible Art Critic.

    And when you hear Christians coming out of the woodwork saying that the reason people are criticizing a film is simply because it “has a Christian message,” it is important for Christians with artistic sensibilities to stand up and say, “No, the criticisms against this film are not necessarily driven by an anti-Christian agenda. They have something to do with the fact that the film falls short of excellence.” And no amount of theological correct-ness can turn a mediocre movie into a good movie, or a good one into a great one. Is this an effective evangelism tool? Perhaps. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t say. But “effective evangelism tools” and “art” are two different things. The more a piece preaches, the farther it strays from the realm of art, because the fundamental rule of art is “Show, don’t tell.” Art invites us to explore something and make our own discoveries; it doesn’t package and present a message, or sugar-coat a moral lesson.

    To be clear, my comments are not an assessment of the film, as I haven’t seen it. I am simply expressing my sympathy for a fellow arts patron who, when he was dismayed to see Christians celebrating a mediocre film as art worthy of high praise, voiced his frustrations with behaviors that encourage mediocrity and continue to convince the culture around us that art associated with the church is probably nothing specal.

    Rather, one would hope would be to look for the promise of a genuine artist, and to offer encouragement.

    I think what you’re saying here is that we should be encouraging to the artist. I agree, we should encourage the artist. I, personally, crave criticism and thoughts on my early drafts. But when a work is put on the Big Stage, next to the rest of the movies available to audiences, the artist releases it to be weighed and sifted and critiqued. At that point, it is the critic’s responsibility to do his job, not to soft-pedal criticism for fear of hurting the artist’s feelings. Imagine if you applied this dynamic to other things, such as medicine, or food. Should I reserve my complaint at a restaurant that there was hair in my food, just because the cook might feel less-than-encouraged? Heck… I *paid* for that meal, and ordered it in a place where I have the right to expect excellence. What he *meant*… what he *believed*… that’s beside the point.

    I’m not advocating cruelty. I’m advocating honesty… sometimes brutal honesty. Having received such criticism myself in the past, I know that it hurts sometimes, yes. But I’d rather know the truth and let it challenge me than go on with my mistakes believing that conviction is all that matters.

    Of course, the film is weak in places, but Alex knows the weaknesses better than anyone.

    If you know something is flawed, either don’t release it, or don’t complain when critics do their jobs.

    He made the best film he could.

    Good for him. We should expect nothing less. But excellence is not relative. I can applaud him for doing the best he could, but if the movie falls short of excellence, as a critic, it would be my job to point out where it came up short.

    and the fact that it has attracted so much attention is due to the fact that a studio has lined up behind because it knows it can make some money with it.

    Did he make any effort to stop them? Did he say that it was only for a select audience and not the general public on the big screen? If not, then he should be content, even happy, that it’s receiving critical attention like every other movie. Perhaps the people who made “Scary Movie 4″ made “the best movie they could make,” and the studio put it out there to make money. I’m glad critics were still willing to tell the truth about it.

    Who can ever grow as an artist if they are shot down just as they begin, simply because they don’t have the experience and maturity their critics demand?

    If he’s on the big screen, he’s in the pros now, and he’s gonna be measured as a pro.

    Critics should be fair, pointing out pros and cons. But we shouldn’t hold back on criticism just because someone’s new on the block.

    Dick is right to point out weaknesses, and he is right to insist on excellence.

    I agree with this.

    But, for goodness sake, let people be beginners when they are starting out!

    If you “start out” on big screens across America, all the more reason to learn the standards by which those films are measured.

    Could it be that the response has nothing to do with critizing a work of art and everything to do with criticizing an evangelical attempt?

    Dick Staub is a man of passionate conviction about evangelism. He just also happens to go against the majority by ALSO having a passion for excellence in art. This is a piece of big screen entertainment, and it should be measured as such. Personally, I’m glad the filmmakers have a passion for the gospel. But if they make a movie, it’s gonna be judged as a movie.

    I was moved by the film because it spoke of the love of my Savior and His great compassion for His children. I’m sure that it was especially moving for me because of my years as a High School football coach and the fact that my wife and I were childless for thirteen agonizing years.

    God can speak through great art and shoddy art. I know people who have wept and been touched by images and music in an American Express commerical. But I wouldn’t say that the commercial was a superlative work of art. The critic’s job is not to decide if something might move somebody somewhere, or speak to somebody somewhere. (I received a letter from someone who came to Jesus because of Herbie the Love Bug. I’m not making that up.) It’s the critic’s job to weigh the film’s excellence… or lack of it.

    In my context the reviewer comes across as smug and self serving.

    God help the critic who has to weigh the “context” of every single viewer in the audience and shape his review accordingly.

    There’s an old Christian pop song that still moves me when I hear it, because it is full of scriptures that are important to me. I’ve even shed tears during that song. But you know what? It’s a shoddy, predictable, lazy piece of songwriting. And if I was asked to review it, I’d say that it takes a powerful scripture and wraps it up in cheap trash.

    Because that’s the truth, and if I praise it, I’m likely to encourage more cheap-ness of the same order, rather than inspiring that “beginner” to do better work and pay attention to beauty and excellence.

    The fact that he is accurate does nothing for him.

    Do you hold your mechanic to the same standard? So long as he does his work for Jesus, you’ll be happy to pay his high prices, and the accuracy of his work isn’t really that important?

  • Mo

    “If Christians made it, we cannot publically admit that it is anything less than glorious.”

    I just don’t get this mentality because I have never thought this way and haven’t dealt with people who do.

    Why should it be this way? I doesn’t matter who’s making a work of art – quality is quality and crap is crap. And honesty is honesty.

    I dropped a note of support to Mr. Staub. This sort of thing makes me embarrassed to identify myself as both a Christian and someone who loves the arts.

  • mark

    Could it be that the response has nothing to do with critizing a work of art and everything to do with criticizing an evangelical attempt? I was moved by the film because it spoke of the love of my Savior and His great compassion for His children. I’m sure that it was especially moving for me because of my years as a High School football coach and the fact that my wife and I were childless for thirteen agonizing years. In my context the reviewer comes across as smug and self serving. The fact that he is accurate does nothing for him.

  • Gene Branaman

    Drat!

    Thanks for catching that, jasdye. I have this madening tendency to get my comparitive phrases mixed up. As in this case, it’s got the best of me.

    It should have read, of course:

    “It’s the difference between Flannery O’Connor & a Harlequin Romance. Both may have their place but one is sublime while the other silly.”

    To which Miss O’Conner would more than likely have demurred, humble woman that she was. One of my favorite Flannery quotes, regarding the her childhood accomplishment of teaching a chicken that she owned to walk backwards, is, “That was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. It’s all been downhill from there.”

  • jasdye

    “It’s the difference between a Harlequin Romance & Flannery O’Connor. Both may have their place but one is sublime while the other silly.”

    boy, it’s about time someone put that O’Connor and her manners in their place.

  • Gene Branaman

    “I am curious, don’t all movies manipulate on some level?”

    Yes. Every form of entertainment is manipulative. It can be positive or negative, honest or dishonest, depending on the work’s approach. At some point, all such work removed from reality. And isn’t that why we go to films or read books? We don’t go to see real life but a commentary on real life. I guess I should have said “crassly manipulative” in my original post, because that’s really what I meant to infer. It’s the difference between a Harlequin Romance & Flannery O’Connor. Both may have their place but one is sublime while the other silly. Does that make my point clearer?

    “It may be more gratuitous, but is it really fair to suggest that the person who is moved by Michael Bay is manipulated by the person moved by “Film Making Genius” is not being manipulated?”

    That’s not at all what I intended to suggest. Watch, if you haven’t, The Return, a Russian film from 2003. Yes, there’s manipulation of character & plot to keep the audience guessing about what will happen, but the honesty of the characters & the truth of the situation is at the forefront &, therefore, the emotional impact is that much greater. Or take The Browning Version (1951). Again, the honesty of the performances & the truth of the plot, though more stylized than in The Return, is so real that the final moments of the film are highly emotionally charged. In both films, we as audience are allowed to share the lives of these characters in ways the cookie cut-out characters of any Bay film can not. Add to that his reliance on overwrought dialogue & extremely sentimental music & you’ve got a recipe for crass manipulation.

  • Thom

    “But I can say that there are a whole lot of folks out there who are totally unaware of when they are being manipulated by a film, TV show, book, song, etc.”

    I am curious, don’t all movies manipulate on some level? It may be more gratuitous, but is it really fair to suggest that the person who is moved by Michael Bay is manipulated by the person moved by “Film Making Genius” is not being manipulated?

    Yeah, yeah…life’s not fair.

  • Tim Frankovich

    Doesn’t surprise me at all, anymore. I get the same kind of email in response to my book reviews. Oddly enough, I never get angry responses to the few reviews in which I’ve torn a book to shreds. I get angry responses when I give a mediocre review to something that others feel “could move people.”

  • Tim

    Jeffrey,

    I have been beating the drum for artistic excellence in Christian film-making for so long that even I am tiring of myself. But to call this film “another artisitic embarrassment in the name of Jesus” is so unfair. If Alex Kendrick was a fledgling painter instead of a fledgling film-maker, would you look at his canvas and tell him it was an embarrassment, just because it had weaknesses? Rather, one would hope would be to look for the promise of a genuine artist, and to offer encouragement.

    Of course, the film is weak in places, but Alex knows the weaknesses better than anyone. He made the best film he could, and the fact that it has attracted so much attention is due to the fact that a studio has lined up behind because it knows it can make some money with it. And Alex, like any artist, wants as many people to see his work as possible.

    Who can ever grow as an artist if they are shot down just as they begin, simply because they don’t have the experience and maturity their critics demand? Dick is right to point out weaknesses, and he is right to insist on excellence. But, for goodness sake, let people be beginners when they are starting out! The “embarrassment” tag is just a bit hard to swallow.

  • Gene Branaman

    “He also needs to learn that if a movie moves people, that qualifies it as being of surpassing excellence, and wobetide the man who dares say anything critical about it.”

    Yeah, I’ve had conversations with people who loved Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor because it made them cry. Made being the operative word. Manipulative storytelling can indeed cause the viewer/reader to feel a specific emotion. But Bay’s film can’t compare to the genuine emotional impact of other works.

    Facing the Giants might or might not be manipulative – can’t say, I haven’t seen it. But I can say that there are a whole lot of folks out there who are totally unaware of when they are being manipulated by a film, TV show, book, song, etc.


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