Regarding that "Facing the Giants" post…

My comments on the tempest over at Dick Staub’s CultureWatch set off a bit of a tempest here.

But since I haven’t seen the film (I only meant to comment on the way other people are upset about criticism of the film), I was happy to receive a response to the film from a film writer whose assessments of films I greatly respect.

He said I could post his note on a condition of anonymity. In the spirit of Transformers, I’ll call him Christianous Prime.

Hopefully his comments will restore balance to the Force and bring peace to the galaxy.

Christianous Prime writes:

Regarding the quality of “Facing the Giants”: I’ve seen it. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either– certainly not as bad as Dick Staub makes it out to be, and certainly not as bad as some of the folks posting here have apparently already pre-judged it to be. And I’m not just saying it’s half-decent because the movie is made by Christians or have good motives or any such. I am SO not on that page; that’s one of my biggest pet peeves too, that something must be “good” because the motives are pure and holy. Nope.

But “Facing the Giants” is better than any of the Left Behind movies or any of the latest turn-a- Frank Peretti-novel-into-a-movie thing I’ve seen. I know that’s not necessarily saying much. But this is not another God-awful (pun intended) “Christian movie.”

Yes, there’s too much sentiment, too much mush, too much predictability. But they got a lot of things right, even better than I’ve seen in many expensive Hollywood productions. Mainly, they nailed the following:

1) High school football. As a former sportswriter who has been on the sidelines of almost 200 high school football games, I can say they got it right. The coaches. The players. The action.The sideline banter. The locker room. “Friday Night Lights” and “Remember the Titans” got it better, but not exponentially better (despite exponentially bigger budgets). But when it comes to HS football, “Facing the Giants” gets it right, very right.

2) A Christian school. My wife has taught in one (and my son attended one) for the last eight years. “FTG” got the Christian school atmosphere right. People who don’t know that setting will roll their eyes at some of the things that are said and some of the settings. But they didn’t paint Christian school out to be a warm-and-fuzzy everybody-loves-Jesus-Kum-Ba-Yah sort of place. People bicker. There’s ugly backstabbing and a get-rid-of-the-coach conspiracy from overzealous parents. Yup, that happens in a Christian school too. Seen it myself.

3) Humor. The problem with most Christian movies is that they take themselves too seriously and don’t know how to laugh at themselves. When’s the last time a “serious” Christian movie evoked even one laugh — *intentionally,* that is! (The LB movies have provoked plenty of laughs. So did that awful “The Visitation.”) But “Facing the Giants” has some funny lines and scenes. I laughed out loud at least 10 times during this movie — more than I have at many big- budget Hollywood films that are trying really hard to make me laugh.

On the negative side, the acting is B-rate at best. Some of the supporting actors are terrible. And the script is just too darn predictable. One scene actually occurred in a NON-predictable way, and I was happy about that because I hadn’t seen it coming — and then that got “corrected” to a predictable outcome just moments later. Aaarrgghh!

The worst thing is that the movie’s overall message is that that once you get right with God, *everything* will go your way. I would’ve been fine if *some* things, or even *many* things, went right with the lead character after his recommitment to Christ. But everything? Give me a break.

What’s disappointing about some of the comments on this blog is that it seems that many people have already determined that this movie sucks, based on a couple comments or even on the lame track record of other “Christian movies.” We have every right to be skeptical; I certainly was, and I didn’t have my hopes up for “Facing the Giants” either. But unlike many of the comments I’m reading here, I DID watch the movie with an open mind. I hadn’t prejudged it.

And I was pleasantly surprised. Not Oscar-worthy surprised. Not tell all my friends about it surprised. And not even shell out $30 to take the family surprised. But I’d at least suggest that people check it out on video.

Bottom line: I’d give it two stars, broken down like this: 3 stars for the things I lauded above, 1-1.5 stars for the acting, a half-star for the predictable script, saved mostly by a handful of truly humorous lines. All averaging out to about 2 stars for the whole experience.

People are right to criticize lame Christian movies. I’m right there too. But it appears in this case that many are ready to slam this one before they’ve seen it. That’s just as wrong as the person who says a movie is great because the motives were pure.

I’ve long felt the same way about Christian music. I’m sick of the old “but they’re doing it for God’s glory” argument, as if that’s enough to give an album 5 stars. Uh-uh. Not me. Our business is not to judge motives, but quality. And I think “Facing the Giants” is better than many of the Christian movies we’ve seen — which is all the more amazing considering it was done by a church on a $100,000 budget, and not in a “real” studio with a much larger budget.

Is it a great movie? Nope. Very good? Nope. Good? Hmm, maybe. Somewhat good? You bet. Does it suck? Nope. Was it a waste of my time to watch it? Nope.

Perhaps the biggest giant this film will face are the preconceived notions from Christian critics and pundits who have already deemed it a lame movie.

There, now. You see? THAT’S the kind of thing I’m imagining when I dream about good Christian film criticism. Speak with grace, with care, with compassion, but also boldly, with uncompromising passion for excellence and attention to technique.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Seth

    thanks jeff i changed computers and inadverently bookmarked the specfic page. I am now catching-up my lurking. love your work.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Seth,

    I think you must have bookmarked a single post, and not the blog itself, because I’ve been posting almost daily. Put lookingcloser.blogspot.com in your browser, and get caught up!

    Jeffrey

  • Seth

    jeff, no post since thanksgiving? makes lurkers stop lurking.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Mr. Anonymous, I remember you, and I remember the ways you persist in talking about your theory of David Lynch’s sacred work. Now it seems you’re ready to say that those who criticize Lars Von Trier’s work are in some way barring God’s work. I’m not going to tolerate that kind thing here. Lynch, Von Trier, Tolkien… their work contains traces of the truth, and that’s true of talented artists. But this is not a place for you to preach your vision that Tolkien, Malick, and Lynch are somehow part of some specific divine plan.

    You can speculate to your heart’s content on your own Web page, but I don’t want you using this space to carry on and on about a vision that no one else shares. I’m deleting your last couple of posts. If you were willing to include a direct link to your page so those who want to peruse your views can do so, I’ll permit that… once… but until you do that, it looks like you’re just here to mess with us behind the shield of anonymity.

    I’m deleting your last couple of posts, and I’ll continue to delete them unless you want to identify yourself and give us a link.

  • stephen

    I read your recap of “Manderlay” with sadness. It seems that a talented director has stumbled into an artistic cul-de-sac of sorts.

  • Anonymous

    Nice review of Manderlay. It makes me glad that I put Von Trier on my “personal boycott” list a few years ago. (I only watch his old stuff now.)


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