I think most of the time people know what they think and feel about a movie before they actually see it. The trailer looks cool, it has one of their favorite stars in it, or deals with subject matter that is close to their heart, and nothing is really going to change their mind. Taking this a step further are films that are so sure of their audience that all they have to do is achieve a certain level of competence in order for their audience to jump on the bandwagon. Such is the case with Courageous, the fourth and latest film from the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia (also included under this umbrella: the Twilight series).
The previous paragraph's thesis isn't meant to dismiss the film as a nefarious ploy to get cash. There were parts of it that I enjoyed as a movie lover and human being, but trust me when I say that if you are not a part of the club this movie is catering to, there is very little here for you to watch. The movie is like an electronic, ever-changing billboard for living life the godly way, which makes it fantastic for people who long to see born-again Christian lifestyles on the big screen. It also works for people who are just interested in seeing more family-friendly story lines. For everyone else, go rent Left Behind and take a shot every time a slack-jawed Kirk Cameron stares at someone.
This movie seems to lose itself in an attempt to tackle the broad topic of fatherhood and what it means to take responsibility for your actions and your family. As a result, it felt like a first draft that was overly long and without focus. The first hour is spent just getting to know the five main characters and watching the setups of what will certainly be a spiritual lesson later in the film. Four of the five main characters are cops, and the fifth is a blue-collar construction worker. Each are dealing with their own everyday problems--emotional distance from their family, paying steep alimony, having kids old enough to date, not having enough work, or screwing up on the job. When a tragedy rocks one of their families, they all reevaluate their positions as leaders of their family and sign a resolution to be stronger role models. There are plenty of extra scenes about local gangs and how they act as an artificial family unit to replace the ones they lack at home, and alongside all the issues the main characters face, you've got a pretty full load for just one film. It all loosely relates back to the notion of fatherhood, but isn't really a plot. I spent most of the movie waiting for the movie to start. And of course in order to wrap up all that business going on, it had to end about seven times, only adding to the length.
Moments where the characters share genuinely emotional experiences kept me from feeling like an outsider. There are some much-needed laughs in the film that work well alongside a couple of heart-wrenching scenes. Part of the reason they worked so well was that they didn't have an agenda built in--a young boy harboring extraordinary guilt over not being a better brother to his sister while she was alive is something every person can relate to. Whenever the movie drops the heavy-handedness about how great God is, it becomes universally appealing. If there had been more of that in the rest of the script, it might actually convert people. As it is, it only serves to preach to the choir.