My interest was piqued when I discovered this was a Christian film, where I wondered just how explicit its messages are going to be, how they were incorporated into the film, and also curious to know just how its box office may turn out to be since the distributor here is charging full price for it without any discounted terms applicable. Courageous is made by Sherwood Pictures which is the film production ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, and is founded by Alex Kendrick, its associated pastor who also takes on directing and co-writing duties with brother Stephen Kendrick, as well as playing one of the four lead roles in the film.
The main question here is, can non-believers enjoy the film? In all honesty, Courageous boasts high production values, and frankly its cop moments where the characters go on foot and car chases and shoot-em-ups (yes), so it has all the typical ingredients that go into a decent police action thriller. But of course it's not always about the action, and this film is rather steeped in its drama, spending significant time fleshing out the households of each of the four major cop characters, plus a friend they get to know along the way. So if you're up for a feel-good film that has its fair share of conflict and tragedy, and a story about how the characters dug deep and overcame the various adversity along the way, then this would be for you, if you can get past how they each have to turn to God, or count their blessings each time for a fortunate turn of events swing in their favour.
Ken Bevel opens the film as new cop transferee Nathan Hayes, who saves his infant child from a carjacking incident, that sets the stage that the community he is about to live in, has its own problems with teenage crime, gangs and drugs. And also having to deal with a growing daughter who sees no wrong in going out on dates, save for the apprehensions he as a father tend to have in suspecting every young man who comes knocking at his door. We're then introduced to corporals Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick) and his partner Shane Fuller (Kevin Downes), as well as Nathan's own rookie partner David (Ben Davies), all of whom are fathers in their own right, and all facing different challenges in their family lives.
For instance, Adam has to grapple with not spending enough time to connect with his daughter Emily (Lauren Etchells) and son Dylan (Rusty Marin) who wants him to run the 5 mile together, save for Adam knowing his own fitness level and refusing to train nor participate. The story also deliberately crafts vastly different families dealing with different issues so that an entire spectrum gets covered, from divorcees to those running away from responsibilities. Then there's Javier Martinez (Robert Amaya) a mutual friend of the cops who is seeking to get out of the poverty circle, and amongst the group has the best of luck in having God answer almost all his prayers.
It helps when almost everyone happen to be God fearing men, but if I may read into the film a little bit more, are men who are clueless in knowing just what to do in bringing up their children the "correct" way. The sheriff of the town pins rising crime statistics squarely on felons not having a proper father figure when growing up, so you'd know just what this film is about - the importance of fatherhood and how fathers become that shining beacon for good behaviour if they know how to instill proper discipline, care, love and respect in the children they are responsible for. Some may not agree with such a sweeping statement made at least twice in the film, but that's one of the key objectives the film has for its intended audience.
And being a religious film of sorts, there are scenes crafted subtly, and not so subtly, involving how people with crucifixes are first to the scene to render assistance to a crime being committed and to helping with the injured, how a BBQ cookout is alcohol-free, references to the scriptures on being a father, and of course more explicit ones with the reading of the Bible, and cell group like prayers being conducted. As the film wore on, especially once past its crucial turning point of a tragedy that woke everyone up into being committed to signing a commitment, or a covenant of sorts to vow on the proper upbringing of children and looking after the household, such scenes became more pronounced, as with the thanking of the Lord for good fortune smiling their way.
These Resolutions became the centerpiece in which the narrative will revolve around, since the pastor duly warned that each would be tested against what they have signed on paper, leaving the rest of the hour mark to deal with just that. with temptation put along the way with tests of integrity. To make it realistic and to avoid the syndrome of everyone being holier than thou, some folks have to take a fall, but it's a fall that's cushioned with redemption toward the end, just like the way the religion preaches about that, and forgiveness. Some moments did come off as slightly creepy though, especially with Nathan's presentation of a purity ring to his daughter which I thought was a little bit overdone and could have been read in a very different light if taken out of context.
So yes, the verdict is that the film preaches as it went along, inevitably of course given it's production background. It began with slight intent here and there, followed by dialogue that tells how religion changes lives such as talk about judgement day, to the men taking it upon themselves to lead more wholesome lives, culminating in a full blown setting in a church where Alex Kendrick speaks through his Adam character to talk about fatherhood, parenting and how one's responsibility will affect the community, that's unmistakably a full blown sermon.
If you're part of the intended audience, then Courageous will be that enjoyable mainstream film that has religious sensitivities, with nary a swear word or vice on display, with the bad guys all getting reached by the long arm of the law. Frankly it's a little bit refreshing watching a film these days that's sans a swear word being uttered. But for those who will roll your eyes at any hint of being preached at, then Courageous would not be your cup of tea though I'd still recommend it if you're up for a film with squeaky clean values, and isn't that shoddy in its production terms.