he Kendrick brothers are back with lots of truth and a little less cheese
Courageous, the new film by the Kendrick brothers of Fireproof and Facing the Giants fame, has those trademark Kendrick moments. Which is a good thing and a bad thing.
There are those scenes that should have been touching, but instead you cringe: A grieving mother makes sobbing noises without a single tear emerging from her non-bloodshot eyes. A little girl is hoisted up and held by her father—extra cheese, please—at the height of a careening cops-and-robbers chase, while the camera spins around the dad and daughter in slow motion so you get the point, and get the point, and get the point: Dads are important.
I wish the Bros. Kendrick would stop assuming that their audience is as dumb as rocks.
Anticipating a movie full of scenes like this, I confess that I went to see Courageous, the third film to come out of the Georgia-based Sherwood Church team of Stephen and Alex Kendrick, with all the enthusiasm of an eye roll and a groan. But I came away surprised. Because the flip side of the Kendrick quandary is that they produce films with real content—tracing the lives and decisions of godly men and women in tough circumstances–and it is these kinds of Kendrick moments that make it all worth it this time.
Courageous marks an improvement in character development and story-telling for the Kendricks: Alex, who directed, co-wrote and starred in the film, and Stephen, who co-wrote and produced. The film follows the lives of Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick), Nathan Hayes (Ken Bevel), David Thomson (Ben Davies), and Shane Fuller (Kevin Downes), four Albany, Georgia, police officers, as they face the challenges of law enforcement, integrity, and fatherhood. A fifth main character, Latino manual worker Javier Martinez (Robert Amaya), joins the four via a literal answer to prayer.
The film’s first scene grips instantly and creates a visual metaphor for the movie. Nathan, after a moment of apprehension, leaves his truck unattended at a filling station while he retrieves a squeegee. Then he hears his truck door slam and tires squeal. He’s been carjacked.
Nathan jumps onto the driver’s side door, desperate to retain control of the vehicle despite being pummeled by trees, gravity, and the carjacker. Nathan manages to crash the car to stop the thief, who runs away. Bystanders encourage him not to worry about the wrecked truck. In response, he swings open the truck door to reveal his crying infant son. Officers Adam Mitchell and Shane Fuller are called to the scene and interact with Nathan, whose first day on the force will be the following day. Officer David Thomson will be Nathan’s partner.
As they drive away, Shane asks Adam, “Would you hold on?”
Adam’s the kind of father that wants to be left alone after a long day’s work. But in time, he and his family are devastated by a tragedy that kindles a righteous desire to be a better father. The other four men are inspired to join him in this endeavor, which results in their signing and swearing to uphold a written resolution about fatherhood.
The remainder of the film is a montage of integrity tests for the men. The Kendrick brothers ambitiously attempt to tackle economic challenges, fatherlessness, divorce, gangs, and violence in the course of two hours. Like a preacher whose sermon prep spills into the sermon, the movie, though well-meaning and packed with truth, goes on far too long and wanders. Perhaps because the Kendrick brothers were writers, directors, and producers, the pace of the film lagged for lack of editing. It could have easily been cut by 25 to 35 minutes.
That said, Courageous moves its audience. Viewers shed tears in the aftermath of Adam Mitchell’s tragic loss and wept as we watched him dance. We also cackled at Javier’s “Snake King” impression in the back of a squad car. The Kendrick brothers have made a lot of progress in their ability to cultivate beats of humor and maintain an emotional connection with the viewer.
There is a weird scene where Nathan takes his teenage daughter out to a fancy dinner in order to explain her worth and dearness to him. It comes off a wee bit creepy, especially when Nathan breaks out a ring that he asks his daughter to wear until it’s replaced with her wedding ring. If the film were muted, I’d have thought it was a marriage proposal.
I appreciated the Kendrick brothers’ intentionality in creating a diverse cast. It’s rare to see men of color cast as the strongest men of faith. Javier is a working-class Latino with a lovely wife and two doting children. Before they open their mouths, we see crosses decorating their walls and a plaque written in Spanish that reads “God bless our home.” Nate is a middle-class black man with an adoring wife and 15-year-old daughter who’s just getting the attention of boys. Both of these men are the model of honor and integrity, which helps me to forgive the strained accents that Javier and his family have–it sounds like they were born in Georgia but are pretending to be from Spanglishia. It’s a bit harder to look past the stereotypical struggling-to-feed-the-family-on-rice-and-beans-and-I-can-only-work-in-construction bent. (Since Javier features so heavily in the film, I wonder why he’s not featured in the marketing.) There are also many stereotypical young black men in ‘do rags robbing, shooting, running, and sinning.
The women in the film are more like foils than three-dimensional characters. The grieving housewife, the sassy black woman, the petulant teenager, the little angel, the easy cheerleader, all seem like archetypes rather than souls who carry opportunities to delve into the effects of a man’s neglect on both men and women, boys and girls.
Like any good Baptist preacher, Kendrick scripts a sermon scene with a call to action, which ends the film. The film is a laser-focused challenge for men to stand up and answer “I will!” to the question of who will be responsible for representing integrity, raising godly children, and acting as spiritual leaders in their households. The movie is a flashpoint for discussion about manhood and fatherhood, and I recommend reading the resolution of fatherhood that is the cornerstone of the film.
The truth is, Courageous is explicitly and exclusively a challenge for men. While I appreciate the cinematic strides the Kendricks have made, I felt like a neglected bystander in a two-hour-long conversation.
Sharifa Stevens is a wife and mother, singer, and writer. She earned a B.A. from Columbia University in New York and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She lives in Dallas.