Sherwood Pictures, the movie ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church, lives up to its potential in its fourth and most recent film, Courageous, my favorite movie of theirs to date. For those who fear that this movie is getting a pass, well, this movie has earned at least a three day furlough from my critical eye.
Sherwood Pictures hits is stride in this movie. There really are no flat performances, only major and minor parts. That’s refreshing because one of the pitfalls of independent films is overacting, people without the talent to be big names simply trying too hard. Cinematography here is classic mid-South Americana, which is completely appropriate to the story and really highlights the points of the film. Blocking, cutting, and sound design are all superbly done. The stunt-work is well-done, realistic, and relevant. No one does a back-flip over a fence they would simply climb. There is a serious drama that is no less meaningful because it deals mostly with common experiences instead of far-fetched crime plots or adulterous double-dealing.
This story about a group of small-town cops, friends, who decide to man-up in their lives follows through with encouraging results. I have, in the past, excoriated Sherwood movies’ shortcomings, but this time they deserve lots of praise. This a movie about police work, brotherhood, acting out your faith, fatherhood, taking a stand, and manhood in general. Real guys and their families deal with the challenges of hard work and trusting in God. These themes were present in previous Sherwood movies, but except for Flywheel the movies presented it as too easy, to simply victorious for real drama.
Once again I have to point out that Alex and Steven Kendrick have written a clever script ably delivered by some of their veteran actors as well as some new faces. Several of the comedic scenes can stand up with any comedy, and I like them more than most because they don’t have to resort to juvenile potty humor, raunchy innuendos, or physical violence to make you laugh. The words “Snake Kings” still bring a smile to my face.
Sherwood overcomes almost all of its prior pitfalls with this story. The heroes are generally good guys, with visible flaws and weaknesses. Prior movies from this studio have lacked strong antagonists. Courageous’ law-enforcement milieu provides a smorgasbord of bad guys, both the openly evil and the subtle. A good protagonist is key to a good drama, because it is in conflict that a hero’s strengths and true nature shines through. Even better for a movie that professes to have devotional aspects, the challenges that the characters face are all ones we could face in real life. There are the real wounds of loss, divorce, and the fall of a friend from grace, and finally Sherwood pictures presents us with damage that isn’t taken away or easily overcome (one of my earlier criticisms of their films). But this time there is also accountability, fellowship, and loyalty beyond the easy lines of black-and-white morality. The fallen are not abandoned, and the wayward are not shunned, which makes this a much more genuinely Christian movie than previous attempts, from my point of view. The plethora of challenges also includes the threat of physical violence, uncertainty about unemployment, ethics at the workplace, and much more.
This is still a family film with a clear moral, so the morality of the show is fair game. The moral of the story is the impact that a man has when he has the courage to step up and live with honor to his commitments. In many ways this film is the child of the Promise Keepers movement of the 1990’s, since the emphasis is the same. It is a genuine pleasure to see the men grow in fellowship with one another and in loving relationship with their families, because the movie has a valid point. From the point of view of traditional Christianity, the worldview of the filmmakers, men have a vital role to play in raising their family, impacting their families lives. The message that there is no time to waste is devastatingly clear in the main character’s journey through grief to more active fatherhood.
No film can incorporate all aspects of an issue. So the movie is perhaps to be forgiven for only focusing on manhood within the context of fatherhood and family, with work on the side. (With the brief disclaimer that manhood can and does exist outside of having a family and children, say… with Jesus for starters, who called his disciples his family.) And if much of the problems in the American family come from issues outside of a man’s control (children born outside of marriage and family, women who throw men out of their children’s lives, divorce, re-marriage, etc.) that does not change the impact that men can have in the circumstances depicted here.
I’m not a Baptist, and there are points that I might disagree on theologically, but there are no major errors or theological bombs in this film. This is a story about men learning to be better men, stronger, and there for their loved ones. In the process we get to see some adventure, share some laughs, and receive some encouragement in our lives.
If Fireproof is the only Sherwood movie I actively hate, Courageous is the one I actively love.
In fact, reviewing this movie prompted me to go out and buy a copy for myself to own. Money well spent.