Film Comment: Church-funded film Courageous is patronising conservative propaganda

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Courageous is a boring and patronising drama about a group of Albany cops who decide to be better fathers to their kids is produced by Sherwood Baptist Church, an American Christian group who, according to their website, exist ‘to touch the whole world’, motivated by their ‘passion of Christ’.

I wouldn’t mind if they spread the word of Christ by making good movies, but Courageous is dreadfully written and awfully acted. The story is harvested for sickly sentimentality, and the ultra-sincere moral lessons being preached get in the way of convincing characterisation.

A large part of the narrative (or what there is of one) revolves around the death of a little girl. This feels more like a crass device rather than anything profound. There are also aspects I think some mainstream Christians will find a little uncomfortable. The idea of a father giving his daughter a chastity bracelet didn’t sit well with me, nor did the almost careless disregard for the important part mothers play in family life.

The anti-divorce message feels ridiculously out of date, and the conservative propaganda is as subtle as a battering ram. The film is unlikely to convert anyone who doesn’t already have a firm belief in God, as it puts its political and religious agenda before storytelling.

Some of the messages the film tries to teach its audience are good, such as the importance of love and family. They would work well with mainstream secular beliefs if the film dared to accept that fathers can care for their children and put family first without the love of God driving their good will. The self-congratulatory masculinity also got on my nerves.

It isn’t surprising that the marketing and publicity for this picture harnessed the use of right-wing websites that peddle hate and discrimination. Although judging a film via the publications it advertises in is not always wise, it does give you some idea what audience the makers have in mind.

Courageous’s religious agenda is alienating rather than inclusive. I am an atheist, but would be very willing to give this film a positive review if it attempted to put all its sincerely held beliefs in a package more accessible and entertaining for non-Christians. And, of course, it would need to be well made, which this is not. The painfully bad script also ruins the emotional moments provoked by the child’s death. The film’s director, Alex Kendrick, is also the leading actor, and displays as little talent in front of the camera as he does behind it.

Defenders of the film may argue that this is a picture made for Christians by Christians, and one should judge it on that basis. But if I was to simply accept this as a sign of quality, I would be doing the Christian public a disservice. People who hold the strong beliefs that are voiced in this film deserve better movies than this. I may not agree with some of the things they believe, but one must not lose sight of the good things Christianity teaches society. Sadly, I fear that the way this movie sets about spreading its message will confirm to doubters that they are correct. For non-believers, I believe it will be more successful as a deterrent, rather than a call to prayer.

In the end, Courageous just preaches to the converted. And what a long-winded, dull and uncomfortable experience it is.

A note on the disc: Sony’s DVD release is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio. The transfer of the digitally-shot feature is excellent, with vibrant colours and the image quality demonstrates the best the DVD format can give. There is no blu-ray currently available in the UK.

Courageous (2010), directed by Alex Kendrick, is distributed on DVD by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Certificate 12. 

 

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Second year BA Film & English Student. Watches too many films and enjoys good novels.

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