Review: “Courageous”

Not many movies had me in tears in the opening sequence. “Courageous” did.

I’m not an “early adopter” of whatever comes down the road–I think I didn’t upgrade to Windows 95 until Windows 98 came out. Movies are a little different, and there may not be many days left in the theater schedule for this one. My two-word recommendation: GO NOW. The extended recommendation: GO NOW, AND TAKE YOUR SONS.

Courageous” is the story of five men in a small Georgia town, each of them grappling with issues of fatherhood–their relationship with their fathers as boys, and their own performance as dads now that their turn has come. Each of them has issues to confront, and some are seriously troubled; there are situations with divorce and joint custody, abandonment, unwed parents and absentee fathers. The central character, a sheriff’s deputy named Adam Mitchell (played by Alex Kendrick), is a basically decent man with a defective relationship with his son and obvious favor for his younger daughter. He is wrenched into facing his complacent–and inadequate–approach as a father; his soul searching spreads to his friends, and you see how God’s grace and a commitment to honor Him in their roles as fathers and men plays out in different families, situations, and temptations.

There are discussions, examples, and warnings on a range of family issues. How can a man reconnect with a son who’s become alienated toward him? What can a father do to protect his daughter’s heart? How do you hold on to faith in a loving God in the face of death, poverty, fear, and shame? What can you do when the father is absent–or when you find yourself in that role?

None of these can be explored in detail in the short compass of a feature film, but the important thing is the basic themes and principles which are displayed: Fathers are critically important for a child, especially a son. A man has to take responsibility for his wife, his children, and his own actions. God expects a lot from us as men–and He will provide the guidance and strength we need. And a father must “Never let go of the wheel,” as one character learns to his sadness–not to tyrannize his family (this is never implied, even in the more defective families shown), but to keep guiding them toward the place God would have them go.

Four of the men are sheriff’s deputies, and this is a way to explore the problems fatherlessness is creating in many communities–gang membership, drug use, and generations of irresponsible behavior. It also shows how no one is immune to similar problems; Adam is faithful to his wife, a generally upright man, at least nominally Christian, but through conflict with his son and distraction of his high-pressure, dangerous occupation, is slipping into patterns of the absent father even while he’s home every evening. This is important to emphasize; it’s too easy to point to the illegitimacy rate and criminality in some areas, or the infidelity and worldliness wrecking other families, and say, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like other men.” More often, we need a prophet Nathan to catch our lapels and say, “Thou art the man.”

The film has some pretty intense action sequences–they’re deputies, after all–and sometimes there are children in danger (none are ever shown hurt). There is a pretty brutal gang initiation scene and some serious fights between the deputies and suspects. One suspect is wounded in a shootout (it didn’t seem to slow him down much!) and there is a very little bit of blood after a fight scene (about the level of a bruise and a busted lip). My nine-year-old son has a sensitive spirit and a few scenes made him uncomfortable, but okay with Dad’s arm around him. He did say he was glad the movie was made from a Christian perspective, so he knew it would turn out okay.

Frankly, there were several scenes which caught me emotionally. As someone once told me, and as I told my sons afterward, once you’re a husband and father, you never read the newspaper the same way again–any time a woman or child is in danger, it tears at you in a way you never knew as a single guy. And the conflicts these men come through are pretty familiar territory for us guys.

One that doesn’t play much part here is sexual. There are things in the backstory of some characters — one confesses he had “a hookup with a cheerleader” in college and when he told her to “take care of it,” she chose not to have an abortion. One man mentions his father “had an affair” and another that his parents never married–in fact, that his father had six children with three different women, and he never met him. However, there isn’t any overt sex in the movie–some quiet expressions of affection like the kids might see in the kitchen, but nothing to hide their eyes from. I thought I heard one profanity in the climactic scene, and it was indistinct enough I probably misheard it; again, not something I’d worry over.

There is a presentation of the gospel during the film, but I think the power of “Courageous” is more for waking up the sleepy, lackadaisical men in the pews rather than direct evangelism. On the other hand, an awful lot of people in our part of the country (here deep in the “Bible Belt”) who consider themselves Christian never seem to engage with Christ’s real calling on their lives, so maybe being challenged to live what they claim to believe will show them where they’re missing.

My recommendation–go see it with your teenagers, and if you miss it in the theater, get the DVD. It’s a good film. It may be too intense for younger children (and some of the older girls might find it distressing) but for the older ones, it’s worth seeing and discussing. Kudos to Sherwood Pictures for another well-made, thought provoking experience.