A group of sheriff’s deputies and their construction worker friend learn to become better fathers in Courageous, another movie from the writer/director of Fireproof and Facing the Giants.
So, we’re talking life lessons and Christianity.
The movie starts with Nathan (Ken Bevel) getting his truck stolen at a gas station. Nathan sprints after the car and eventually grabs the wheel and hangs on, even though the thief is punching him and driving erratically. Nathan persists and the car eventually veers off the road and crashes. The thief gets away and Nathan is injured, but not badly. Bystanders stop to help him and call an ambulance. Don’t worry about the car, a woman says to him as he scrambles to open the back door. I’m not worried about the car, Nathan says, opening the door to reveal his baby son.
Ladies and gentlemen, Nathan, best dad ever.
This is pretty much the conclusion Adam (Alex Kendrick) and Shane (Kevin Downes) reach as well when they show up to take a police report of the event. Nathan informs them that not only is he basically superman, he’ll be joining them soon — he’s just transferred to their office and he’ll be out there fighting crime with them next week. Though both men have kids, neither seems to think that he’d have grabbed the wheel and held on like that.
Adam pretty much comes home and collapses on the couch. His wife Victoria (Renee Jewell) can’t get him to show up for daughter Emily’s (Lauren Etchells) recital or go running with his sullen teenage son Dylan (Rusty Marten). Shane is divorced and has a bad relationship with the mother of his son, whom he doesn’t get to see often. Rounding out their group (which becomes a foursome when Nathan joins the force) is relative-rookie officer David (Ben Davies), who, as we eventually find out, fathered a child in college and has never made any effort to see her or support her or the mother emotionally or financially.
These men muddle through life, eventually gaining yet another buddy in Javier (Robert Amaya). Javier is a construction worker who is having a tough time keeping a job in this shaky economy. Thanks to some mistaken identity, he winds up getting a job building a shed in Adam’s back yard, which is where he is when Something Horrible happens and the men’s lives change forever.
(You don’t have this many characters in a movie without killing off at least one of them, is all I’ll say about the nature of the Something.)
As the men deal with the fallout from the Something Horrible, they decide to rededicate themselves to being fathers. Nathan and Javier are good fathers already but this new resolution makes them extra conscious of their role in their families. Nathan works to keep his daughter Jade (Taylor Hutcherson) from hanging out with a boy on a bad path and Javier struggles to model righteousness even when it puts his family’s financial stability at risk. Also, Adam tries to reach out to his son, Shane tries to improve his relationship with his separated family and David takes the first steps toward repairing his relationship with his daughter and her mother.
A lot of message seems to mean a lot of characters. That and the many storylines are hallmarks of these movies. You could probably have told this story in 90 minutes but in these movies, examples and the variety of examples of the movie’s central theme are part of how the story is told and the case is built for whatever point they’re making. In Fireproof, it was all about marriage and finding a way back to each other even when it appeared that a couple had parted ways. Here, it’s about the different ways fathers can fail their children (by leaving, by setting a bad example, by being there but detached) and how they can do right by them.
The acting in these movies has improved over the years — it’s still not good but it isn’t for the most point distractingly bad. And while the movie leans on some strange stereotypes (I’m not even sure what to say about the way this movie uses race other than that it’s very different from what you’d see in a mainstream movie and feels both calculated and a little too lazy) it also talks about certain things in a very direct way. You will likely never see, for example, a scene in a mainstream movie where a group of men sit around earnestly talking about the first time they felt like men and not boys. Sure, it’s not brilliant cinema, but it is kind of fascinating.
The movie drills this message home fairly successfully for its faithful (I don’t think it will be bringing any agnostics in to the church on Sunday), if in a way that feels overly long if you went not expecting a Sunday school lesson. If that is what you were expecting, Courageous delivers it fine. C
Rated PG-13 for some violence and drug content. Directed by Alex Kendrick and written by Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick, Courageous is two hours and nine minutes long and distributed by TriStar.