I had zero expectations for this film. Yeah, yeah, the Christian audience lauded it as the greatest movie ever, but I’ve learned not to trust the opinions of Christians on Christian films. Why? Because they compromise good film-making for a good message or a touching moment of salvation. Christian movies are usually little more than a medium to thrust a message. And Courageous is no different.
And yet…it was still good.
I was genuinely surprised that just a few minutes in, I was already invested in the film. And even when the film concluded, though it had plenty of bad moments, I actually enjoyed myself, and I think I know why.
Unlike most Christian films, Courageous has a remarkable lack of cheese.
Christians love cheese, man. Or ham, ham it up, baby. Sprinkle in some corn, too, they eat that stuff up, mm, the cornier the better. But no film can survive on this diet. You need vitamins so that the film has real life in it. You need to cut the fat so there’s no fluff, even if it tastes so good. And you need fiber to make sure it all runs smoothly.
This metaphor is stupid. The point is that Courageous worked very well because they didn’t rely on sappy scenes, but actually tried to do some good writing, acting, and filming. And they do well, not perfect, but well.
Courageous is a story about five men–Adam, Nathan, Shane, David, and Javier–and how they lead/fail to lead their families, especially as fathers. The best part about the movie is their comradarie. This gang actually feels like a real group of men and there’s some great chemistry. On top of that, the humor these guys throw around is actually darn funny; there are plenty of actual laugh-out-loud moments, which Christian movies could really use.
And I was actually surprised by some of the plot turns. Every twenty minutes or so, the film with throw some new wrench in the system–some tragedy, some new challenge, or just some new mystery–but always with good results. Not many movies can keep me guessing, and the fact that a Christian movie pulled this off was a real refresher. It’s also not a 100% happy ending. Yeah, things are resolved and it’s an encouraging ending, but one character ends up in a bad place and doesn’t fully recover.
The film’s biggest problem, though, is its use of time. At 129 minutes, the film is a long one, but there were many, many scenes that could have been cut or condensed and the effect would have been the same, and shaved off a good 20 minutes. Also, because they kept everything, there’s not a good balance of scenes. For example, we see a ton of Adam’s struggles as a dad, but almost none of Shane’s. And some scenes just take the sentiment one or two scenes too long. Plus, lot of the cop drama gets put on hold for the family scenes.
Better yet, cutting the fluffier scenes would have also helped the sappiness, because taking it one scene too far was the reason it felt overdone. So it’s not a cheese-free film, but that’s why I said LOW-dairy in the title. Still a little, unfortunately.
And yet, the cheesiest moment of the film, which made me actually cringe, turned around and slapped me in the face. SPOILER ALERT!! Adam had a moment to dance with his daughter in public, but asked her to dance alone instead. Halfway through the film, she dies. After going through a lot of recovery scenes, Adam returns to the public place where he refused to dance, puts on some music, and dances by himself.
At first, I thought this was one step too far, just too cheesy. But the more I watched, the more I realized how suitable it was. Yeah, it was awkward to watch, but that was the point: Adam had refused to dance with his daughter before because he didn’t want to look stupid. Now he didn’t care. I think it made me uncomfortable on purpose, because real love is. And then he looks to heaven and says, “Can you tell her I did my side of the dance?” Yeah, my wife cried like 4 times during this movie.
The cuts that should have been made were more for pacing and balance, not for just cheesiness. And in that regard, there isn’t a lot to cut. For the most part, the action scenes are exciting, the guy scenes are hilarious, the drama actually makes you wonder, the tragedies are heart-wrenching, and all in all, the film was effective in and of itself.
Yeah, there’s the obligatory conversion scene and it doesn’t work very well. And it’s obvious that the final scene is actually talking to us, the viewers, rather than anybody inside the film. Clearly, this film is trying to make a point and tries a little too hard to do so. But you know what? Even with all these things, it’s still a good film.
There’s good action, believable drama, some quality surprises, and a good share of laughs and tears. I’d say 4/5 stars, meaning I’ve at least considered buying it, and it’s going to earn a place on my “Quality Christian Art” page.
It makes me excited to see that Christians are getting better at making great art. We’re not there yet, but we are very, very close.
CHRISTIAN RATINGS: PG
- LANGUAGE: 1/10–Maybe one word or two.
- VIOLENCE: 4/10–Some action scenes, a shootout and some hand-to-hand in the end, and minor gang violence.
- SEXUALITY: 0/10–Nada.
- SUBSTANCES: 3/10–There are some issues with drugs like pot, but no one is seen using any. I won’t say more–spoilers.
- MATURE THEMES: 4/10–Themes of loss and death, some gang-related themes, nothing kids can’t handle, but it’s not aimed at them.