Fireproof (2008): Looking Closer’s Film Forum

What is Film Forum? Well, with so many film reviews published, and so little time to read them all, I make a note of any review that I find particularly thoughtful, persuasive, or worth wrestling.

Be sure to check back, as I’ve only just begun to read reviews of these films, and I’ll add more interesting excerpts as I come across them. Feel free to submit more reviews, or even your own, in the comments below.

Chris Willman – Entertainment Weekly:

Some of the tenser domestic moments will hit home with battle-scarred marrieds of any religious stripe, and the couple’s problems are candid by evangelical feature standards, although they hardly rate high on the secular dramaturgy scale: He’s got an Internet porn habit, and she’s enjoying an unconsummated flirtation with a doctor at work.

These are temptations faced by Christian and non-Christian couples alike, but the filmmakers hedge their bets by making the young marrieds agnostic at the start of the movie, in order to turn Fireproof into a manual for eternal as well as marital salvation. (”I’m in!” Cameron announces to a spiritually mentoring firefighter pal.) You probably can’t blame pastors moonlighting as moviemakers for wanting to pack their film with multiple messages, but the conversion subplot feels shoehorned into the more crucial marital doings, as if coming to Jesus might be just one of a long checklist of steps to restore sizzle to your marriage, right between buying roses and preparing a candlelit dinner.

Peter Chattaway – Christianity Today Movies

Like most Christian films, Fireproof includes a scene in which the protagonist makes a decision for Christ, but one of the things I like about the Kendricks’ films—including not only Fireproof and Facing the Giants but also their first film, Flywheel—is that this moment usually comes about halfway through the story, instead of at the end, which is where it normally happens in Billy Graham and Left Behind movies. Where those other films treat first-time commitments and rededications to Christ as the climax to the story, like the wedding at the end of a fairy tale, the Kendricks show these moments of decision to be true turning points; the person who lived one way at the beginning of the film learns how to live another way by the end.

However, in Fireproof, it is not quite clear how essential Caleb’s conversion is to his efforts to save his marriage. Flywheel and Facing the Giants concerned men who already had some sort of connection to a church community, but Caleb only has his parents and a friend or two for spiritual support. The Kendricks have said that Caleb needs to know Christ if he is to love his wife as Christ loved the church—but by that same token, shouldn’t he also be involved in an actual church? What if someone were to follow the steps outlined in The Love Dare without being a Christian? While the film works well enough as an extension of Sherwood Baptist’s marriage ministry, it is hard to escape the feeling that the evangelistic element has been tacked on.

But let’s not quibble too much. They say an audience will forgive a movie’s flaws if it gives them a solid ending, and Fireproof definitely has that.

Neil Genzlinger -The New York Times

“Fireproof” may not be the most profound movie ever made, but it does have its commendable elements, including that rarest of creatures on the big (or small) screen: characters with a strong, conservative Christian faith who don’t sound crazy.

. . . The screenwriters, the brothers Alex Kendrick (who also directed) and Stephen Kendrick, give the story some pull by not making Catherine into the usual neglected wallflower of a wife. Instead she’s a publicist at a hospital who spends most of the film contemplating whether to hop into bed with one of the doctors.

For two-thirds of the movie, the filmmakers show a restraint rare in the movie-with-a-Message genre, so much so that the two most appealing characters are those nudging Caleb toward Christianity (Mr. Malcom and Ken Bevel as a fellow firefighter).

. . . But the cast of mostly amateurs (Mr. Cameron of “Growing Pains” being the exception) is surprisingly good. And the moments of comic relief are mildly amusing.

Only at the end do the filmmakers get heavy-handed, and they seem not to know when to wrap up, letting the movie run on for several smarmy scenes beyond its natural endpoint. Until then, though, this is a decent attempt to combine faith and storytelling that will certainly register with its target audience.

And maybe with other folks as well: among those caring-for-marriage tips are some that anyone could use to improve any type of relationship, with or without the God part.

Richard Corliss – TIME:

Fireproof is a Christian parable, a sermon ornamented with a story, about a firefighter named Caleb (Kirk Cameron) whose marriage with Catherine (Erin Bethea) is falling apart. This theological imperative makes the film an anomaly among current releases. But almost as daring is its tackling of that taboo movie subject, an ordinary marriage. This isn’t a weepie, where the beautiful wife is dying, or a thriller, with one spouse trying to kill the other—just two people facing the burdens of living together after the first passion has ebbed, when the idle words and gestures of the person you used to love threaten to ascend to the level of war crimes.

…In theory, Fireproof is as alien to me as Religulous is familiar. At more than two hours, the film will make those viewers restless who aren’t utterly resistant. But there’s something affecting about its artless earnestness, its aim to dramatize large portions of ordinary lives that most movies ignore. I wasn’t converted, but I was charmed.

More here.

UPDATE 1:

Brett McCracken on Fireproof:

So I saw Fireproof over the weekend (as did, apparently, quite a few people: the $500,000-budgeted film earned $6 million in its opening weekend and landed at #4). I previously had no intentions of seeing the film, until my colleague Peter Chattaway gave it a surprisingly positive (3/4 star) review for Christianity Today. Having seen the trailer earlier this summer and lamenting the maudlin quality of Christian film, I had very little hope that Fireproof would be good, and suspected that it wouldn’t even be particularly watchable.

Turns out Fireproof was watchable (certainly moreso than its predecessor,Facing the Giants, which I couldn’t watch with a straight face), though by no means was it good.

I didn’t laugh as much during Fireproof as I did during Facing the Giants, and I only felt the urge to look away from the screen a few times. There were oodles of uncomfortably saccharine moments and heavy-handed digressions of overacting, but it was a huge, huge improvement over Giants. This makes me happy, but it neither excuses Fireproof for its numerous failures nor justifies it as a successful film.

UPDATE 2:

Michael Leary of film-think weighs in at artsandfaith.com:

I finally got around to watching Fireproof, and I liked it. I liked it in the way that in the same way that I “like” sermons that call to mind something important even if I don’t like the way they are presented. There are so many parts in which Fireproof is awful, clumsy, and unprofessional in all the ways we would expect it to be. But I can completely imagine people walking away from it with better ideas about marriage and relationships. I keep waiting to feel some intense reaction to it as a flawed work of Christian art and thought. I guess it isn’t coming. Part of this is may be because I don’t think of it as a “film” as much as a class project put on by some well meaning person at the Bob Jones film school.

Secret Lives of Dentists is still a far, far better film about marriage though.


UPDATE 3:


Ed Gonzales at LA Weekly:

… director Alex Kendrick’s style suggests a pharmaceutical commercial — especially during scenes of Caleb and his father plodding through the woods toward a creepily and strategically placed cross — because what is Fireproof selling if not a drug? But before it even mentions God, the film works sweetly as a chronicle of a man trying to extend the courage he shows on the job to his marriage by following a 40-day experiment called “The Love Dare,” which necessitates being kind to Catherine (Erin Bethea) and, ultimately, unkind to himself — by giving up his dream of owning a boat and beating the shit out of his computer for teasing him with a pornographic pop-up ad. Then the film gets all religulous, suggesting that Caleb’s devotion to healing means nothing without Jesus, and so Fireproof stops becoming relatable to us all and only to the already, or easily, indoctrinated.

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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.

  • Rich Knight

    Watched it because so many of my church were gaga over it and were promting me to see it. I was reticent and my fears were not unwarranted.

    Yes, it delivers a clear worldview. Yes it will have you wiping a tear or two…but that happens with a good commercial. Saccharine sweet it is and after that it loses my interest.

    My problem with ‘Christian Films’ is the level of professionalism. Why are Christian Projects not on par with the secular world? Why do we list myriad excuses for these projects when if a secular project comes out that is at that level we simply lambasted and let it die. Are we so starved in the ‘Christian’ world that we will accept anything in order to have something?

    Question: If we, as Christians, are doing these projects unto our Holy God, should we not therefore do them with Our Utmost for His Highest? Doesn’t He deserve the best there is to offer?

  • Michelle Alston

    I thought this movie was wonderful. I agree with some of the other posts in regards to how apparent it was that some of the actors were amatuers. Other than that the movie was great. It opened my eyes to the kind of marriage I have and how important it is to put God first. I’m a Christian and I love movies that include God but I by no means think that every movie has to have a Christian foundation but it sure is good to be able to look at a movie or even a simple t.v. show that you don’t have to watch with the remote in your hand in case you have to mute it or turn the channel because kids are in the room.


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