I know I ruffled some feathers when I dropped a few deuces on 'Fireproof' and 'Facing the Giants.' I can't say I feel I was wrong to trash either film, due to their absolutely abysmal writing (and this includes both dialogue and plot), acting, or production values, let alone their absolutely horrible messages that spend more time preaching to the converted than they spend trying to be legitimate cinematic experiences (or, dare I say, preach to those they feel are truly in most need). I'd go so far as to say that the works of the Kendrick Brothers have been solely propaganda. Financially viable propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless. The Kendricks haven't improved on their formula, in any fashion, so I have no respect for them as filmmakers.
In their latest project, they don't dispel any of the criticisms leveled against their growing body of work. If anything, they provide the critics all the ammo they will ever need to show that the films are nothing more than short-sighted cash grabs aimed at duping their existing flock into buying more merchandise. Now, that may sound awfully cynical of me, and I'll get back to that, but there is nothing in 'Courageous' that leads me to believe the film was made with the purest of intentions. Even the anecdotes I read about most actors being volunteers (read: no pay) made me wonder what the point of their growing library of films really was.
Taking place in Albany, Georgia, 'Courageous' follows the lives of four police officers (Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Kevin Downes, and Ben Davies) and their families, as they go about their somewhat ordinary existence that is about to turn into something they aren't ready for. On top of a growing gang problem in the city, these cops have to deal with potential suitors to their children, temptation and corruption, but one will also have to stare long and hard into the face of tragedy. Best friends off the force, dedicated partners on it, they push to keep each other safe when they wear the uniform, and even when they don't, as they move forward into accepting their faults and becoming better people for them. They don't have all the answers in this crazy world, but they have each other, and they have God. This is not subtle movie making.
So what part about that sounds like the film was made to pimp out more products than an infomercial pitchman? Sadly, none of it. In fact, 'Courageous' could have actually been a very good film, with a pretty positive message, if only the Kendricks weren't tripping over themselves to make the same mistakes that have plagued their previous films.
Rather than push a real story about the value and importance of a strong parental background as children develop (which, quite honestly, makes perfect sense and is a message I'd support!), 'Courageous' sinks to underhanded tactics. Early in the film, as we are told about the growing gang problem, their ranks are summed up as follows: they come from fatherless homes. Each and every problem in the lives of the criminal young men are attributed to this, making them a separate class, of sorts. Now, I don't want to even go into the whole "God fearing men driving away the heathen fatherless gangbangers" angle, but I do want to bring up the fact that in this film, there is no such thing as extenuating (or even complicated) circumstances, or tragedy for the gang members, even the youngest one who we see the most, as he tries to fit in and find the family presence he's lacked so far in his life. Yeah, real evil, that. It's almost as if the cops are allowed their tragedies, and allowed to grow from them, meanwhile the potential for equally devastating life changing events are written off if someone takes the wrong path. Nope, just evil.
'Courageous' is a bad film, through and through, and is made more as an advertising tool than anything else. See, the men in this film all decide to make a resolution, a pledge of sorts, to live better lives, to hold themselves accountable. Sounds honorable enough, right? But the thing is, it is so cheap in the way it's preached (for a lengthy portion of the film, to boot), you have to wonder what's being sold here...unless you go to Wikipedia and find out there are not one, not two, but five (five!) tie-in books/novels/guides to this film. Five. While the film doesn't linger on a close-up of a guide for ten minutes (ahem, 'Fireproof'), it most definitely gets across that they want you to get into this new routine the filmmakers made, so as to make more money. There's no other reason to linger on said pledge for nearly half an hour. It's so blatant you have to wonder if the film is even about fatherhood or just more indoctrination via gimmick.
'Courageous' fails for a number of other reasons, too. One, most of the cast has little to no acting experience, are volunteer church members who know as much about acting as I do about basket weaving (not much) and couldn't provide a believable performance if their lives depended on it (which, sadly, they don't). Two, there are these things called narrative, structure, plot cohesion and/or advancement, character development, believable dialogue exchanges, reality...none of them are found in this film. While we aren't quite told to pray for a car and we'll get one, we are told that God will give us jobs if we believe in him, and in this doomed economy, that may be an even less forgivable sin.
I'm not joking, either. I really wish I were. The film's biggest subplot involves a Mexican day laborer (Robert Amaya) who is fired from his job, and, in a sign from God-slash-pure coincidence, ends up working for one of the cops building a shed. He does well by the family, and they get him hooked up with another job. Because there surely isn't anyone else in Albany looking for employment, no sir, no one else is starving, or lost their jobs, who may be more qualified in that particular field of work. Wait, sorry, the cop "knows people." I assume that means he literally knows where the bodies are buried. While we do see hard work pay off (which would be a great moral for a film!), it is instead attributed to religion.
The film meanders so much, and is so preachy and talky, it forgets how many plots it dangles in the air. There's a gang problem in Albany, and their drug dealing and car thievery is our introduction to the film, but for (at times) thirty minute intervals, they're nowhere to be found. Nowhere. Not even mentioned. The film goes off on its own tangents about pledges (which demand the taker force his family into his decisions, as well, without consulting them...), or grieving, or the meaning of family, that it forgets that it's a film. Sorry, "film." And the worst part? At almost 130 minutes, it literally feels like you just watched a four hour war epic by the time you're done. At the fifty minute mark, I was exhausted, quite literally, pressed the status bar, saw I wasn't even half-way through, and groaned, heavily. Pace, and I don't mean the salsa, is a good thing to have in a film. 'Courageous' doesn't have it. Perhaps because it isn't a good film. I don't know. Could also be the whole "sub-plots that come out of nowhere, without reference at all prior to their occurrence, just to amp up the drama" mumbo-jumbo that this film is loaded with, too.
The filmmakers also don't quite get this thing called allusion (you could also say allegory). They don't understand the damage they do to their own work by shoehorning their new program into a film, seizing any momentum for periods so long you almost forget what else is supposed to be happening. They don't understand that having characters act one way, discover they're wrong, and then do a full 180 at a moment's notice doesn't make a film more dramatic or emotional. They don't understand the way real people talk or hold regular conversations. They don't understand that flubbing lines draws the viewers out of the film. They don't understand that people can make a life for themselves, religious or otherwise, and accept that perhaps their own demeanor had something to do with it. They don't understand how to make a film seem like a film, instead of a sermon, which this film devolves into for the climax (literally). They don't understand film. I don't understand why people keep giving these guys their money, when anyone can have a message, but those deserving of our support actually know how to deliver it skillfully.
Religious films aren't all bad. Some can be very powerful. Some can be profound. The thing is, it's better to let us discover it on our own, rather than have it jammed down our throats, or suggest we buy your merchandise to come to grips with what you're telling us. Even the 'Chronicles of Narnia' and their Jesus lion are more subtle than this. 'Courageous' doesn't want to be subtle, nor does it want us to think about what we're seeing on screen. It wants us to accept that people with big rims are probably drug dealers, to accept the hands dealt to us without question, and to accept the pending charges on your credit card for books authored by the Kendricks and their producers.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Courageous' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A/B/C BD50 disc, replete with full motion menus with an audio loop, as well as a number of religious film trailers when the disc loads.
Filmed with the RED One camera system, 'Courageous' looks like a billion bucks on Blu-ray. With solid three dimensionality throughout the entire film, on top of fantastic detail in every shot, there's never a dull moment...visually, at least. The amount of character in skin details and clothing is enough to drive one mad trying to keep track of it all. The only issues with the disc are minor ones, though they do add up a little. First, textures can be a little hit or miss in a number of scenes, with clothing often looking like it were painted or pasted on, while a moment or two of noise catches the eye. The inability to focus on the action sometimes, well we can blame that on the camerawork for the film, as it's a little sporadic and wobbly. Still, this is a winning transfer, one that is sure to make fans beaming with joy at how beautiful the film looks.
The audio for 'Courageous' is a bit less deserving of praise, even if it comes by way of a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The film starts out strong, with good engine roars, great ambience, and plenty of vehicles moving through the room, but the film quickly forgets this "all angle" aspect and quickly becomes a front heavy affair. Ambience becomes a few and far between occurrence, while motion vanishes entirely. Rooms don't sound full, at all, as the film is far too sterile sounding with rears simply disappearing. Worse still, a few lines here and there have a very hollow, somewhat digital feel to them, rather than a natural sound. I understand the robotic nature of the acting, but the voices made it a little too much.
Color me surprised: the extras aren't all that bad. There's even a real highlight in the commentary. I can't believe I just said that. Don't hold it against me.
The Kendrick Brothers strike again, with their forced messages meant to inspire audiences...to buy their other products. I was inspired to be a better father by making sure no child of mine will ever see this film. If you're into this sort of thing, and you know who you are, this disc features stunning video (due to the awesome RED One camera system). Stunning. If you're not into this sort of thing, then just be reminded: no star score in this review could ever make up for the fact that you know already if you're going to like or dislike this film. As such, this one is for fans only.