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There were many things I could have been doing on a Friday evening in June. Most of the men I know - and judging from the Facebook feed, no small number of the women - were watching England beat Sweden in Euro 2012. On any normal Friday evening, a lot of people would be in the pub winding down after the working week. But on this particular Friday evening a number of men were gathered at my church for a showing of the film "Courageous". Never has turning down the opportunity to be in the pub on a Friday night watching England on the big screen been such a good move.
"Courageous" opens with a carjacking, with the attempted victim fighting for all he's worth to hang on to the car and not let the thief get away with it, but risking his life in the process. This makes no sense to the passersby who see him thrown off and the car crash into a tree, until he opens the back door of the vehicle to comfort his crying baby. When the Sheriff's Department arrive, it appears he is soon to join them as an officer, having relocated to give his family a quieter and safer life than where they were living before. On his first day on the job, he helps to chase down and arrest a couple of drug dealers.
Shortly afterwards, one of his colleagues loses his 9 year old daughter in a car crash. This puts huge strain on the family as they struggle to come to terms with their loss and makes him realise how poor a father he was to his teenage son and to find ways to repair that relationship. This in turn inspires his friends to work on their own fathering skills, with them all being fathers in some way; although they don't all play an active part in their children's lives. Having discussed faith matters with his colleagues before, he turns to his Bible for ideas on how to be a better father and this also inspires his friends, who have varying attitudes to faith themselves.
Simply put, above all else, "Courageous" is a wonderfully told film. It's beautifully written, but in such a way that it comes across as being very realistic. There may be parts that would seem too coincidental for those without a faith in God, particularly the way Adam and Javier meet, but for those who have some knowledge of or faith in God and know the ways in which He can work, it feels quite natural. Even allowing for these sections, the ways the characters interact with each other and their families feels very natural and realistic and there was no doubt that the writers of the film must have children of their own and experienced many of the life events and struggles depicted here, or they couldn't have got the tone as right as they did.
It's not just the storyline that feels realistic, but the scripting itself. The characters react in ways that seem entirely natural among a group of friends. Admittedly, there are a couple of points, notably where Nathan is talking to David about Jesus, that seem a little heavy handed, but as some people can evangelise that way, it's not necessarily unrealistic, it just felt slightly uncomfortable. Somewhere within this film are virtually all kind of human interaction, from the ways people treat their children, to the kinds of jokes close friends play on each other. There's a brilliant section between Adam and Javier that evokes Abbott & Costello's "Who's On First?" and Adam's conversational slips whilst on the phone to the Sheriff are hilarious, as well as the kind of thing I've done in the past. The ability to see my own life reflected in the film helped make it even more realistic and I doubt there are many men, especially fathers, who could watch this film and not see at least a small segment of something that has happened to them.
Other aspects of the film are also much in keeping with the excellence of the story. Whilst I'd never heard of any of the actors previously, they all did a very good job. In many cases, this was a first or very early performance and some have other jobs and aren't even full time actors. But they all work together with a genuine warmth that suggests they were very relaxed in their roles and as happy in their off screen relationships as they were in the ones they had to portray on camera. Admittedly, there wasn't a lot here that would have stretched an actor and it could be they were all fathers and Christians so they were essentially playing themselves, but whatever the reasons, these were some of the most relaxed and natural acting performances I've seen in some time.
The soundtrack was also suitable for the film. For the most part, I wasn't aware of it, which is always the sign of the good soundtrack, but when it did come to the fore, it was mostly contemporary Christian music, which fitted emotionally and musically to the scenes it was being played to enhance. The same was true of the limited stunts and special effects. A couple of bits stuck out as not quite working, but given that the film's entire budget was only $2 million, that didn't happen nearly as often as it can on films with a hundred times the budget and which rely on expensive computer generated effects. These minor mishaps didn't impact on my enjoyment of the film in any way.
The emotional heart and character driven nature of the film makes the pacing a little slow for those who prefer the standard genre thrillers in which something explodes every few minutes. The overtly Christian nature of the material may also be a little off-putting for those who are strongly anti-faith. But for those who can handle something a little different, this is a beautifully put together film about fatherhood and God that doesn't drag for a single minute of a near 2 hour running time. Although I only fit half the criteria, being a Christian but not yet a father, I found it a very moving film and don't mind admitting a couple of points where I came across all teary eyed. Nor was I the only one in the group I watched it with.
As it's a relatively recent DVD release, you'll be paying £7.99 for a DVD copy from Amazon and not much less from eBay. But this is such a wonderful film it's worth every penny. This is a film I will be watching over and over again and encouraging as many people as I can to see. If you watch this film, especially as a father, and you're not moved, you may need to see a doctor about your heart. Just to check if you have one.