Courageous: My First Impressions Review

Courageous: My First Impressions Review October 1, 2011

These are my thoughts on the movie Courageous, which I just watched in the theater. I’m writing them down quickly before I forget. There’s no way I could say everything I’d like to say about this film, but I’d like to hit on a few things if possible. Bottom line is, this was an excellent movie, and I’d encourage all Christian families to go watch it. It’s a movie Christians can be proud of on all levels.
Now for a short breakdown.
The story: The story really had five main characters, so it was a lot for the filmmakers to juggle. They did it skillfully and movingly. I cared about all the characters and was genuinely interested in their stories. Each character was different, and their stories were interwoven well. There were some things in the story that I saw coming, but other things I was definitely not expecting. Suffice it to say that while the movie ends on a very encouraging note, it’s not a perfectly happy ending for everybody. This movie tackles themes like irreversible tragedy and corruption head-on in a way that none of their previous films have. For example, in Facing the Giants, the main characters face infertility, but at the end they’re blessed with a child. In this film, a character loses a child, and even though he heals and becomes stronger, there’s no heavenly intervention to bring her back. Things like this give the film depth and a sense of realism.

The writing: The writing was signature Kendrick brothers, yet more mature than before. Sure, there’s still a “salvation moment,” a slightly artificial ceremony built around a set of  fatherhood “resolutions” penned by one of the main characters, and a mini-sermon at the end. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, and they all have their place in the film, but the film’s best moments come when the characters are just being themselves—praying, weeping, joking, grappling with their past, worrying about their future. This film also had a racial mix of characters (Caucasian, black, Hispanic), which gave the script variety and flavor. (Some of my favorite lines came from Javier, who alternates between English and Spanish.) Once again, they achieved a terrific balance of humorous moments and tear-jerking moments. The humor was truly, screamingly funny, and the sad moments were truly gut-wrenching. This is without a doubt both their funniest film and their most moving film.
The directing: The brothers are slowly but surely learning the art of showing versus telling. There were many moments in this film that could have been made overly heavy with clunky dialogue and exposition, but instead were handled with a light, subtle touch. The loss of the child was handled with special excellence. Although there is some dialogue centering around it, much is left to the viewer’s imagination, and some scenes require no more than a few shots or a few lines to convey the family’s anguish. There is a conversation between the father of the family and his son that’s made all the more acutely painful by its understated, unemotional nature. In the case of a different character, we catch only glimpses of his reconciliation with his family and hear no dialogue. The camera tells it all. Again, watch for a lot of moments like this.
As for the action, it was heart-pounding and well choreographed. There were fast-paced scenes that were very complex to plan and film, ranging from a car-jacking to a chase to a shoot-out, and they were pulled off beautifully.
The acting: Unlike Fireproof, which revolved around a single professional actor who was the anchor (Kirk Cameron), this film requires multiple actors to share the load. Alex Kendrick makes a repeat appearance in a leading role and has obviously matured since his work in Facing the Giants. Not only is he a gifted writer and director, but he has also grown into a very capable actor. He bore a lot of the film’s emotional weight and delivered convincingly. Ken Bevel returns from Fireproof to play a similar all-good-guy character and turns in yet another great performance. And without giving too much away, there’s a complex character who wavers between good and evil, very well portrayed by Kevin Downes (the film’s sole pro actor). But I have to say that my favorite performance was turned in by Robert Amaya as the Mexican immigrant Javier. He carries much of the film’s comic relief, yet also has some moving moments and really makes you love his character. He’s honest, hard-working, almost innocent, yet full of life and mischief. I hope to see him make a repeat appearance in their future films. There was also some solid work from the actors who portrayed the gang villains, as well as a boy who gets himself tangled up with them. The wives of the main characters also deserve a mention. All things considered, there wasn’t a single performance in this film that had me squirming in my seat. Everyone stepped up to the plate and did well. Even the actors with bit parts did well.
This film was excellent in every respect, and I highly recommend it. It surpassed my expectations, and it may surpass yours. With each new film the Kendricks make, they build on their past successes and improve in every area. With a bigger budget than ever to work with, this is undoubtedly their most sophisticated effort yet. I understand that it’s already outsold some major films in ticket pre-sales. In fact, at the moment it’s leading Fandango sales. I hope to see it gross even more than Fireproof. It deserves every penny. It carries a message that needs to be spread—a clarion call for Christian men to take a stand for God and their families. I hope it has the kind of impact on fathers in the Church that Fireproof had on marriages. Most importantly, I hope its clear gospel message will draw souls to Christ.
Go see it. And bring a friend.

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  • I agree completely. Not only “better than their last,” it is better than quite a few secular films I have seen. The writing, acting, pacing, filming . . . it was probably the first time I’ve seen a Christian film and not said, “It’s really good, for a Christian movie.” I simply said, “That was a good movie.”

  • I agree. It bugs me when snobby Christians absolutely refuse to admit that films from this genre can have technical merit. I’m not saying we should give Christian movies a pass just because we agree with the message, but it seems like there’s a certain kind of Christian who resents that there’s a clear message at all.
    Incidentally, some pretty funny reviews coming down the pike from the atheist/liberal crowd. Apparently some people are offended that the villains in the film are a black gang. One was snarking “Maybe they’ll catch a Caucasian badguy next time. The possibilities are endless” (or something like that). Idiots—especially in the south, most of those drug gangs ARE black. The film is true to real life.

  • I told my wife as we watched that they would get criticism on this, but seriously, did they even watch the movie? In the Snake-King scene (one of the funniest I’ve seen in any kind of movie for a while, btw) two of the guys being arrested were white. And what about the Caucasian deputy who was stealing evidence? Seemed to me the criminality was reasonably distributed.
    Maybe I could complain that all the criminals were male. What about throwing in a female criminal once in a while? 😀
    As for the Christian critics, I agree – seems like some feel a need to criticize any Christian art/entertainment/literature in order to be accepted as “sophisticated” by their unbelieving friends.

  • Yeah, you have a good point there too. But I still say that the greater proportion of black villains was perfectly reasonable given the demographics of the setting they chose. Like it or not, some things do pan out asymmetrically. There’s no point in pretending they don’t. I like your comment about all-male criminals. 😀
    And the Snake-King scene WAS hilarious. In fact, one of the only good things that even some of the negative/snarky reviewers were willing to concede was that the movie has great comedy.

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