Reviewed by Paul A. Rose,
The best offering from Sherwood Pictures yet. All the quality of a Hollywood film with a life-changing story and an organic presentation of the Gospel message.
It starts simply enough… Nathan Hayes (played by instantly recognizable
veteran Sherwood actor Ken Bevel) fills the gas tank on his Ford F-150.
He starts the truck, then hops out to clean the windshield, the engine
still running. A local gangbanger decides to make the most of Hayes apparent
lack of attention and leaps into the truck, peeling out of the gas station.
With a bang, the latest film from the Kendrick brothers and Sherwood Pictures
kicks off. Hayes manages to cling to the vehicle as it careens through
traffic, fighting for his life and his truck against impossible odds. He
succeeds in routing the truck into a crash, regaining control of it as
well as it’s more important cargo. As another car pulls over to help
Hayes up from the ground, the theme of the entire movie is established
as Hayes pulls his young son from the carseat of the recently carjacked
When deputies arrive, we learn that Hayes is himself a law officer, set to start at the Sheriff’s Department the following day after moving his family back to Albany, GA. The officers responding include Cpl. Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick), Shane Fuller (Kevin Downes of Thr3e & The Moment After series) and rookie David Thomson (newcomer Ben Davies).
The plotline is simple, but inspired. Much like Sherwood’s “Fireproof,” the story flows naturally from the profession it represents, turning the spotlight on an obvious situation that, for whatever reason, doesn’t get noticed like it should. In “Fireproof,” it was firefighters not leaving their professional partners while they neglect their personal ones. In “Courageous,” we watch four police officers protect and serve strangers while neglecting to protect their most important relationships – their families, particularly their children. Sadly, I can tell you from working in Law Enforcement, the Kendricks have hit upon a truth rarely faced by the men and women who work those professions every day.
In the midst of doing their jobs, and serving warrants, the officers become friends with Javier Martinez, a Hispanic man who also has strong faith, played by Robert Amaya, in his first major role. His introduction to the group – God working through a case of mistaken and not-so-mistaken identity – is a fresh and original take on the classic Abbot & Costello “Who’s On First” routine and is hilarious. In fact, many of Amaya’s scenes contain the funniest material in the movie.
When tragedy strikes the family of Adam Mitchell – oddly enough, not as a direct result of their police work, surprising in a film of this type – the officers and Javier come together, comforting each other. Adam, struggling with depression, exacerbated by his full realization of how he has forced disconnection from his teenage son, turns to his pastor for advice. The pastor wisely turns him towards God’s word and Adam begins studying harder than he ever has before, realizing just how little he had been doing for his family. This leads to a meeting with the men at one of their almost weekly weekend BBQ’s, where Adam lays out an ambitious plan for changing all their lives. A Resolution – to be better fathers and husbands, to lead and protect their families just as much as they citizens they sacrifice for every day. In response to one of the officer’s comments, Adam replies with the crux of the entire movie: “I don’t want to be a ‘good enough’ father.”
After their wives get involved, the men all agree to sign the Resolution in a special formal ceremony where they take the Resolution like an Oath or pledge, reminiscent of how the officers would have been sworn in, following their academy graduation. They are warned by the pastor officiating that they will be tested in the days to come. And they are – each of the men find themselves in situations where their character is challenged and have to decide if they will do the convenient thing or the right thing, regardless of the consequences. Just as in real life, some succeed and some fail.
With a bit more cash flowing in thanks to the success of “Fireproof” and its associated merchandise, the Kendricks and Sherwood, pull out the stops, producing a quality film with attention to detail rarely seen even in major Hollywood productions. One of the benefits of a commitment to authenticity in all things, I suppose, the officers interact and behave as regular sheriff’s deputies do, not sacrificing realism for contrived plot points. The one exception is the language was not as harsh as many officers use, in the office and on the street, but this is easily overlooked and completely understandable in a family-oriented film.
The faith – or lack thereof – of the characters is also presented truthfully and organically. Two of the officers are strong Christians – or believe they are. Other characters are not Christians, but this is not brought up as a hindrance to working together, or as an added benefit, as portrayed in some Christian films. Adam and Nathan are, quite simply, men of faith and attend and are involved in church, not as a glaring exception to their lives, but just as important and natural as their weekend BBQ get-togethers, often hosted in Adam’s backyard. When one of the other men starts questioning what he believes and if he should put his faith in God, Nathan shares his faith and the reasons for it, again, organically, not contrived or thrust into the movie at an awkward or inappropriate moment.
With three films under their belt, the Kendrick brothers’ writing is better than ever. I have always admired the fact that Alex and Stephen have a commitment to being better, educating themselves and improving their work with every movie they have done, not just resting on their accomplishments, but constantly learning. “Courageous” is still not perfect, the writing still lacks some subtext and some lines are still too “on the nose,” as they say, but it is worlds improved from even their work on “Fireproof.” Some of the funnier and more poignant moments would have been hard to imagine coming from the same pen as “Facing the Giants,” had they remained stagnant. Similarly, Alex has improved immensely as a director and actor. Maybe taking a smaller role on “Fireproof” allowed him to focus and shape his craft more, but his performance easily stands with any of the “stars” of Hollywood, and it is obvious he knows how to generate strong performances from his fellow actors as well. This is not a church drama group – this is a full-fledged production house, capable of competing with any of the other independent feature producers in Atlanta or out in LA.
I will warn you, this film has the potential to change your lives. Like the officers in the film, being just a Christian was not enough. As James wrote 2000 years ago, “If anyone knows the good they ought to do and don’t do it, it is sin for them.”
This is a film you’ll want to see with your whole family, probably more than once. The message is there, the quality is there and it is definitely entertaining. I was lucky enough to see a sneak preview and the audience was laughing and crying in equal parts throughout the show.
One thing that must be said, because it seems counter-intuitive to people outside the film industry: if you want to see more success of these type of high-quality, Christian films, you need to be out at the theaters OPENING WEEKEND. Yes, it will be crowded, but because of the way the business works, the first weekend of a film is the most important one. Recent films with a lot of publicity and promotion opened over the last couple of weekends behind the re-release of The Lion King. A 17-year old animated film bested what the industry expected to be the top performers of September. With the exception of Dolphin Tale, there are no other strong family-oriented films in theatres September 30th, so there is a great potential for “Courageous” to not only break the Top 10 as “Fireproof” did, but even to take the #1 slot away from the largely R-rated fare releasing at the same time – and stay in the Top 10 for several weeks, ensuring more quality fare from Sherwood Pictures and from the major studios as well.
WATCH THE TRAILER:
Paul A. Rose, Jr. is a writer-producer working in Southwest Florida. He served as the Senior Television Editor for Infuze Magazine (limited archives available at http://infuzeremembered.1330productions.com/) and has also written articles for RelevantMagazine.com. He is currently co-writing a teen zombie romance film, Undead Heartache, that he hopes to begin shooting soon. You can follow the film’s progress at UndeadHeartache.com.