Last Thursday, A. and I went to see Courageous. It’s a movie by a Christian film production group called Sherwood Pictures that has produced several other movies in recent years, including Fireproof and Facing the Giants. It’s based in Albany, Georgia, and is a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church. In other words, it’s far removed from Hollywood, in more ways than just location. For the most part, with the exception of Kirk Cameron in Fireproof, the actors in Sherwood’s movies are no-names, and many are members of the church, meaning they have down-home Georgia accents and probably little to no theatrical training. I think the first Sherwood Pictures movie I saw was Fireproof, which A. and I also saw in the theater. It’s about a sinking marriage that is rescued by a hearty dose of faith and love in action. I watched Facing the Giants on DVD and, I have to admit, loved it. It’s about a high school football team, so I was predisposed to enjoy it. It, too, was infused with messages of faith, which is the purpose of Sherwood Pictures.
I first heard about Courageous months ago when I saw an episode of 19 Kids & Counting in which the Duggar boys and their father were extras in a scene depicting a father-son 5K race. I’ll be honest: I put the premier date of the movie on my calendar all the way back then. I knew it would likely be a powerful story that would make me think and that would spark good discussion with others. So, here I am discussing! Because while I enjoyed the movie, it’s not one that I can simply take at face value as an enjoyable experience. And again, I think that is a large part of Sherwood Picture’s purpose.
Courageous centers around several men who are sheriff’s deputies in Dougherty County, Georgia. One big kudos I will give to the film is that I found all of their situations believable, and I found all the characters to be like people I could meet in my real, day-to-day life. I won’t give away the entire plot, but suffice it to say that a major life event triggers one of the men to evaluate his performance as a father and find himself lacking. With the help of his pastor, he embarks on a study of what Scripture has to say about fatherhood. He uses this knowledge to write up a resolution, which he and the other men sign in a very solemn ceremony. The rest of the movie follows them as they all strive to live out the ideals listed in the resolution, including goals for fatherhood and personal integrity.They all encounter successes and failures, and they depend on their relationships with each other for increased accountability. The movie ends with a Father’s Day church service during which one of the men preaches and puts out a call for the men of courage to stand up and join them in the resolution.
The movie packs a powerful punch. I think it’s especially poignant that the men involved are law officers, men who see people at their absolute lowest and come to realize that they, as fathers, have a huge responsibility for shaping their own children to be upstanding citizens. In one staff meeting, the deputies are told of the statistics: children with absent fathers are hugely more likely to drop out of school, commit violent crimes, and even commit suicide. These are all true statistics that are impacting our country today. So the characters in the movie see these effects all around them and finally choose to seek better for their own families.
The message of Courageous is an important one, and I know churches and Sunday school classes all over the place will be adopting its resolution and teaching and preaching on themes from this movie. I think that’s a great outcome for a piece of popular cinema to have (though I think there are also plenty of “secular” movies that can also spur great discussions). In that sense, I think what Sherwood Pictures is doing is great for Christians. Their movies offer a call to examine yourself and dig deeper into your faith, truly living out what you believe rather than giving mere lip service to a church or cause. But what I wonder is how these movies come across to people who are not already a part of the church.
All things considered, I thought the movie was very well-produced, even better than the other two Sherwood films I’ve seen. I don’t think there would be much for anyone other than an erudite film critic to scoff at here, cinematically. In one scene, a mother is crying over a tragic event, and I really believed her tears. There was no bad fake crying. And since everyone is really from Georgia, the accents are authentic. But I found the emphasis on evangelism in this one to be a bit heavy-handed. Obviously the whole thing is founded on faith and a belief in Jesus Christ. Otherwise, the men wouldn’t have taken so seriously the calls from Scripture to be better fathers. I just wonder, though, whether men really go around quoting Scripture at each other. That’s the part that I think people who don’t already believe would find hard to swallow; I can’t imagine them sitting through this movie and being able to take the parts that are raw evangelism seriously. I wonder, though, if that’s even the point at all.
I think it’s a fine line that Sherwood Pictures is walking, and I think they’re doing an admirable job. If the “only” thing their movies do is encourage conversation and commitment among Christian groups (as the Love Dare from Fireproof has done), then that can hardly be called a bad thing. And if their movies are enjoyable enough as entertainment to help bring some of this “Christian rhetoric” to the mainstream, then that can hardly be a bad thing either. As Christians, we’re told to be in the world but not of it, and to expect to be maligned for our beliefs sometimes. If anyone shies away from a Sherwood Pictures film because it’s Christian, or berates it for any of the reasons I just stated, then I think that can hardly be a bad thing, either. The point is still being made. By making these movies and releasing them to mainstream theaters, rather than straight to DVD or through a Christian publisher, Sherwood Pictures is saying, “We’re here, we’re Christian, and we can make movies, too.” So for all I might pick on these movies for being cheesy, I enjoy them, and I think they serve a great purpose. I guess you could say the movies themselves, are, well, pretty courageous.
What do you think? Have you seen any Sherwood Pictures movies? Would you go see a movie that unabashedly includes Christian themes?
It doesn’t hurt that these movies have great soundtracks. Check out this song by Casting Crowns, aptly titled “Courageous,” that goes along with the movie.