Monday, October 3, 2011

Courageous [2011]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-II) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review

Courageous (directed and co-written by Alex Kendrick along with Stephen Kendrick) is a well-written, well-produced "indie" production of an Evangelical stripe. Its principal production company is Sherwood Pictures a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia.   With the success of previous pictures like Facing the Giants (2006) and  Fireproof (2008), Courageous was picked-up by TriStar pictures, resulting in a fairly wide distribution (1161 movie screens nationwide).  According the website it grossed $9 million in its first weekend (#4 in the box office that weekend) earning $7,800/screen, which turned out to be nearly double the screen average of next nearest competitor with a similarly wide distribution (that being Lion King 3D).  All this is to say that the good Baptists at Sherwood Pictures are on to something, that it's working and finally that larger distribution companies like TriStar are noticing.

This is not to say that this is a perfect movie.  A police drama set in rural Albany, GA, one can't help but notice that pretty much all the criminals in the movie were big, burly and _black_ drug-dealing gang-bangers (even though one of the police officer heroes in the movie, along with his family were also African American).  Then this production coming from a Baptist Church could not bring itself to make the Hispanic family in the movie Catholic.  So there were a lot of crosses in that family's home (but no crucifixes to say nothing of a picture or two of the Virgin).  There is also one scene in which a gold bead chain graces a corner of a mirror in the house.  But alas, the producers of the film couldn't bring themselves to make that bead chain a Rosary... (Again, the Baptists were the ones who footed the bill for this movie.  I understand that.  Still for a Catholic, the Hispanic family's house decor looked rather odd and, indeed, diminished ...).

On the flip side, how many Hollywood produced police dramas -- since in fact, the Andy Griffith Show -- bother to focus much at all on the families of the police officers?  Given that I live and work in a parish at the south eastern edge of Chicago where we have over a 100 police families in the parish, many heavily involved in such parish activities as childrens' athletics and the family and school association, that most of this movie's "drama" (and it's _nice_ if sometimes _sad_ drama) focuses on the kids and families of the police officers, promises to make this movie _a hit_ within a John Candy / Everybody Loves Raymond parish community like mine.

So what is the movie about?  It's about a group of cops working for the Albany Police Department.  There's Adam Mitchell (played by Alex Kendrick) and his partner Shane Fuller (played by Kevin Downes).  There's Nathan Hayes (played by Ken Bevel) recently transferring in from Atlanta, and just finishing his rookie year David Thomson (played by Ben Davies).  There's also the struggling family of Javier and Carmen Martinez (played by Robert Amaya and Angelita Nelson).  Adam hires Javier to help him put-up a shed on Shane's recommendation.  Actually Shane had recommended a different Javier, but by "luck" Javier was walking by Adam's house praying for a job, and Adam thinking that Javier was Javier, called him over "by name." And so there it was, a small miracle that helped Javier and Carmen out immensely. 

Now Adam had some problems at home, small problems, but problems that ultimately matter.  His son, Dylan (played by Rusty Martin) a high schooler, is infatuated with running.  He's trying to get his father to run with him in an upcoming Father-Son 5K.  But Adam tells his wife, Victoria (played by Renee Jewell) that he's over 40, that he's just too old for that sort of thing.  (A short time later, he finds himself in a chase on-foot of a couple of the above mentioned, drug-dealing gang-bangers, and perhaps some jogging probably could have helped...).  But it's obvious that the apple of Adam's eye is his 11-year-old daughter Emily (played by Lauren Etchells).  Still, when enthusiastic Emily wants to dance with him outside on a lawn in front of a bank (while they are waiting for Adam's partner to make a deposit), he's too embarrassed to dance with her like that.  When tragedy does strike midway through the movie, Adam starts asking himself what kind of a father he was.  He's assured by his partner that he was "a good enough father," to which Adam responds, "I don't want to be just a good enough father.  I want to be better than that ..."

The other men, Shane, Nathan, David and even Javier (who they adopt into their group), all have their own "father issues."  Nathan too, who grew-up never knowing his dad but now has a 15-year-old daughter is also concerned about how he is doing.

So the rest of the movie becomes a reflection on fatherhood.  There is some language that would probably make some people grit their teeth -- I'm not sure how many American women today, for instance, would wish that their husbands saw their roles as "protecting and providing" for them.  On the other hand, I would believe that most women would want their men to step-up and do their share (perhaps in the first step, to marry them ... or at least pay child support if their marriages/relationships fail...).  So the movie certainly does focus on issues that matter.

As such, I would recommend this movie, not to defend traditional language for its own sake, but to point out that the problems presented in the movie are real.  Indeed, Adam's greatest transformation in the movie isn't that he becomes more protective (though certainly that language works very well when it comes to Nathan's relationship with his 15-year-old daughter).  Instead, Adam's greatest transformation came when he simply started to jog with his son.  And one wonders, if the Biblical Adam spent more time with Cain "out in the fields" if things would have turned out better there as well (Genesis 4:1-16).

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