I was so moved by this film that I need to “blog about it.” I normally just write a review, but “Courageous” calls for a “blogging about.” (This trailer is a solid representation of the film, but there’s lots more great stuff, too.)
I’ve been asked to be a bit vague about story details since “Courageous” opens on faraway September 30. However, tickets go on sale Father’s Day(!) What gives? Marketing genius, that’s what! The plan is to sell out all the pre-programmed theaters by September 30: www.courageousthemovie.com
Want to bring “Courageous” to your city? Just pre-purchase 1,000 tickets, and you’ve got it.
“Courageous” was done by the same folks who put out “Fireproof” (the story of a fireman whose marriage is on the rocks—his fault, partially because of internet porn—and what happens next). “Courageous is about four policemen, their families, and what being a father means. All us “Fireproof” groupies have been eagerly awaiting “Courageous.” “Fireproof” and “Courageous” are two of the most “Theology of the Body” movies out there. They are from the “moviemaking ministry” of Sherwood Church www.SherwoodBaptist.net (motto: “We can change the world from Albany, GA”). The “moviemaking ministry” is very humbly listed under “Ministries” as “Sherwood Pictures.”
Hmmm. Where to start. I am not at a loss for words about “Courageous.” I took 17 pages of notes during the screening. A record! In my case, the more notes, the better the movie. So, I need to also blog about the experience of the screening, cuz as soon as I walked in the theater, I recognized one of the stars from “Fireproof”: Ken Bevel. I shook his hand and summarily gushed over “Fireproof.”
When I got to our theater within the cineplex (the huge “Ultra Screen” theater—hey, Sony is releasing this puppy), whom did I end up sitting behind? Ken Bevel (also newly-ordained minister) and his lovely wife. So naturally, I began interviewing him. Ken--who also stars in “Courageous”--had no prior acting experience before “Fireproof,” and he’s really one of the best of the cast. He just retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, but is still in good enough shape to do his own stunts. And stunts there are. Sherwood Pictures has a way with action scenes. They’re just really good at them.
ME: “So, these films are a ministry of your church?”
KEN: “Yes, we use mostly non-actors, members of the church. The stories are written and directed by the Kendrick brothers.”
ME: “Incredible.” (I then proceeded to tell him about BJP2G’s “Theology of the Body,” and how this teaching emphasizes from Ephesians that marriage is a reflection of Christ and the Church: Christ the Bridegroom, laying down His life for His Bride, the Church. Ken nodded vigorously. I told him how Catholics into “Theology of the Body” really appreciated “Fireproof.”)
[As an aside for fans of “Fireproof,” I asked Ken if people always mention salt and pepper shakers when they see him. He laughed and said he has a whole collection of them now.]
As the film promoters gave a verbal introduction in the theater, they explained some of the resources and components that will tie in with the movie (as “Fireproof” had). These tie-ins are very cool because they actually APPEAR in the movie itself in some form, and you’re thinking: WE NEED THAT!!! I WANT THAT!!! WHERE DO WE GET THAT???
Sherwood Pictures are not “message movies.” (Lordy, Lordy, spare us the “message film.” As the old Hollywood adage goes: “Wanna send a message? Call Western Union.”) Sherwood Pictures are “take action” movies. NEW GENRE ALERT! As the promoters told us: “We want to make our movies a movement,” or rather, the audience will do that. ROCK ON, NEW GENRE INVENTORS!
The tagline of “Courageous” is also tres, tres cool and very TOB: “Honor begins at home.” Short. Sweet. Brilliant. Cops are about serving, protecting, honoring, right? Guys are about serving, protecting, honoring, right? And there’s lots of wonderful and needed ways they do that outside the home, often for the sake of home, BUT there’s no place LIKE home to do it. “Honor begins at home.” So many things pull men AWAY from home: work, demanding work, overtime work, wars, travel, hobbies, volunteer/charitable work, even church work. So many men are tempted to measure their worth and success by the external benchmarks, accolades, promotions and achievements OUTSIDE the home, but, really? A man’s home IS his castle. Everyone’s first vocation is to love their families. “In the evening of life we will be judged on love” (St. John of the Cross). Our greatest bragging rights should always be about our particular vocation to love/our way of loving (married, single, priesthood, religious life). When people ask us what we “do,” we should talk about our vocations, our families first, what we “are,” before what we “do.” “Honor begins at home.”
I think so many men might be afraid of getting too “domesticated” at home, or if there are problems at home, it’s easier to avoid home. Men working away from the home came with the Industrial Revolution. Before there were factories and skyscrapers and cars, men worked where they lived: on farms, in shops, etc. (Think Joseph of Nazareth at his carpenter’s shop, which was probably attached to his house.) Women need to be aware that men need time alone, with buddies, out in nature, whatever, but home is where the heart is, and where the real test of manhood is: being a husband and father. Men sometimes think they have to be "doing" something or "fixing" something all the time, but what women and children desperately need more than anything is simply the PRESENCE of their men--husbands and fathers. Of course, if men don't feel appreciated, they're not going to want to be "present," so it's a two-way street, of course.
“Courageous” asks the question: “How DO we do fatherhood? Who are our role models for it?”
I thought of another tagline for “Courageous”: “Think fathers are important? So does ‘Courageous.’” But of course I’d be wading into the “message movie” swamp with that.
After we get to know and care about the main characters, the movie begins with two awesome action/chase scenes. I don’t know how true-to-life all the cop stuff is, but it certainly is true-to-all-the-other-cop-movies-I’ve-ever-seen. The family life stuff is also true-to-life, often painfully so. There’s a few prolonged belly laughs in the movie (from good character/scene set-ups). There is clever, organic, hidden exposition.
So what about these non-actors? Um, you can’t really tell they’re not actors. Or rather, they’re natural-born actors without formal training. I tried to guess later (with my new best friend, Ken Bevel) which ones were professional actors. Got ‘em wrong. The child actors—as are so many kids today—are phenomenal. Most of them—you guessed it—non-actors from the church.
Ken Bevel is my favorite actor of the bunch (and not just because we’re peeps now). You’ll see what I mean. The dude speaks with such conviction, and perhaps his military training has given him this fixed, penetrating look, that you will hang on every word he says. (Ken shared with the audience that some of his character’s back story is also kind of autobiographical.)
Alex Kendrick (director, writer, actor) is not only believable, but you can tell he’s a very funny guy. One of the film’s promoters said, yeah, he’s so funny that he has trouble focusing when he's on the set.
For those who might turn their noses up at this prospect of non-actors, may I remind you of the post-war Italian film school of Neo-Realism, where non-actors were used to produce some amazingly poignant and enduring films. (See: “The Bicycle Thief.”) I rest my case.
Casting is done with much prayer. They’re not only looking for the best one to fill the part, but will these actors be good spokespeople for the film? Will they be able to handle the fame? Whoa, talk about “neo-realism,” a new way of doing things, and the proper spiritual care and feeding of actors!
And for those who turn their noses up at this way of proceeding:
CARDINAL WOLSEY: “You’d like to govern the country with prayer, wouldn’t you, More?”
THOMAS MORE: “Yes, I would.”
CARDINAL WOLSEY: “And I’d like to be there when you try. You should have been a cleric, More.”
THOMAS MORE: “Like yourself, Your Grace?”
--Robert Bolt, “Man for All Seasons”
Is “Courageous” a religious film? Yup. How does its “religiousness” compare to, say, “Soul Surfer”? Way more religious, although not all the characters in “Courageous” are believers. Each character’s life-situation is extremely current-day. There’s just a lot of honesty about life in “Courageous,” and no easy answers to tragedy. My favorite line is: “God never promised us explanations [to life’s individual events].” Don’t like “religious” films? Go with an open mind and surprise yourself.
THE CRITIC SQUEAKS
Do I have criticisms of “Courageous”? Yes—but I’ll wait till when I release my “official” review, because they will give a little more away, and the criticisms are minor.
It’s a good succession of films: First—MARRIAGE (“Fireproof”), Second—FATHERHOOD (“Courageous”). So I was chatting with Ken (oh, did I mention I know one of the stars?) again after the film, and I said: “We need a film like this for women.” I had even mentioned this to some of the lady movers and shakers present, and they all kind of slid into the same thing: If men get their act together, if good men lead, women will follow. Women will know what to do. Women already do know what to do, but they have been thwarted by men not leading, or bad men leading. By "women following," I don't mean "submissive," but rather "following on" men's lead--women leading in their own way, women's using their "feminine genius" and gifts BECAUSE of the leadership of good men. 1 Corinthians 11:11 We are interdependent on each other! "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:21