Moviegoers devoted to faith-based fare will flock to megaplexes for “Courageous,” easily the most polished production so far from brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the prolific and increasingly accomplished filmmaking pastors at the Sherwood Church of Albany, Ga. Their latest effort appears poised to surpass the near-miraculous B.O. success of “Fireproof,” one of 2008’s highest-grossing indies of any denomination, and should enjoy a long afterlife as homevid product. Mainstream breakout success likely will prove elusive, as the pic will prove too preachy for many tastes, but even agnostics could respond to the Kendricks’ uplifting message regarding responsible parenting.
Both Kendrick siblings collaborated on the script, and Stephen gets solo credit as producer. But Alex makes fair claim to be the true multihyphenate here, capably serving as director and lead actor. The plot focuses on the relationships formed and concerns shared by four dedicated sheriff’s deputies and an upright Mexican immigrant in a midsized Georgia community; over the course of “Courageous,” however, Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick) emerges as unmistakably first among equals in terms of importance and screen time.
Introduced as a basically decent fellow whose only sins are workaholism and emotional reserve, Adam endures a devastating tragedy early on that causes him to question his values. Comforted and inspired by his religious faith, he vows to become a better parent to his mildly rebellious teen son (Rusty Martin). Furthermore, he encourages his friends to join him in signing a pledge — not unlike the “Love Dare” that figured so prominently in “Fireproof” — to seek and follow God’s guidance while being the best dad possible.
Trouble is, one member of the group is quite capable of moral compartmentalizing: Even while promising to do the right thing as a father, he’s willing to break a few commandments for some quick cash.
Some conversations about religion and redemption come off as convincingly sincere but entirely too long-winded. In fact, the pic as a whole would have benefited from judicious trimming down from its 129-minute length.
But director Kendrick handles a few action setpieces with impressive dexterity, and performances across the board are credible and creditable. Indeed, makers of secular indies and even major studio productions would do well to check out “Courageous” for casting possibilities.
It should be noted that the underlying message of “Courageous” is all the more compelling because of its context. Time and again, the pic effectively emphasizes how the deputies are reminded on a daily basis what eventually can happen to at-risk children who don’t have fathers involved in their lives. Little wonder, then, that they’re moved to ask God’s help to hone their own paternal skills.