Posted by highhurdler on December 18, 2011
It’s been more than four and a half years since my first Morlocks blog on this topic, which is so long ago that Google no longer caches the page. While I’ve added a little bit to the original essay on my site (after watching Martin Luther (1953), A Man Called Peter (1955) – available via DIRECTV’s TCM on Demand this month, and One Man’s Way (1964) in fairly quick succession this fall), I haven’t written about the most deeply spiritual and openly Christian films I’ve seen, until now.
Alex and Stephen Kendrick of the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia have written, directed, acted in and/or produced four commercial movies for Sherwood Pictures over the past 8 years. All are unabashedly Christian message pictures in which the lead characters openly profess their faith in God and/or ultimately proclaim their trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In so doing – by using their talents to do His will (vs. their own) – the plots’ main conflicts are resolved. Each of the four films was made (and is set) in Albany, with their casts featuring many of the church’s pastors and members.
Flywheel (2003) was the Kendricks’ and Sherwood’s first effort, and it shows. While its production values and quality is not as amateurish as say The Blair Witch Project (1999), it can be rather rough viewing. But the acting is just good enough that it shouldn’t detract from the story’s message if your heart is in the right place while watching it. The movie is about a stereotypically shady used car dealer named Jay Austin (played by Alex Kendrick) whose business – and marriage – is suffering due to his lack of character. Even though he occasionally goes to church and would probably claim to be a Christian, Jay is a hypocrite at best: he brags about how much he overcharges his customers, and even cheats his own pastor, setting a terrible example for his employees and his impressionable young son. His business descends into debt and he verbally abuses his wife in front of his son. But seeing a preacher on TV helps Jay to realize what kind of “man” he’s become, so he repents and turns his life over to the care of God. Jay then begins to “walk the walk” and not only changes his business practices but makes amends for past transgressions. Although Jay’s new path is not entirely smooth, its trajectory is true.
If you’re an NFL football fan and by chance have seen Facing the Giants (2006), then you’ve probably had a feeling of déjà-vu this fall during the remarkable run and inspired play of the Denver Broncos – whose quarterback, Tim Tebow, is an outspoken evangelical – this season. Sherwood Pictures’ second feature is about a similarly motivated team’s success. Alex Kendrick again plays the lead character, Grant Taylor, the coach of a Christian high school football team that’s yet to have a winning season during his tenure. Because football is a religion of another kind in the Southeast, some of the fathers who want their sons to have a chance to play at the next level begin to organize in order to fire Coach Taylor and replace him with one of his assistant coaches. Grant and his wife are also struggling with infertility. A colleague reminds Grant that God that has a plan for everybody, and that it’s no accident that he is where he is at the present. Realizing the position he’s in, the coach decides to change his approach. He begins with the most talented member of his team, who is somewhat of a prankster, and helps him to accomplish a seemingly impossible task by encouraging him throughout and not letting him quit. Grant encourages another player to reconcile with his father and leads the entire team by demonstrating his faith in them, and in God. What follows is reminiscent of Remember the Titans (2000) and there is yet another miracle, off the gridiron, as well. Georgia Bulldogs’ Head Coach Mark Richt – whose testimony can be read here – appears as himself in the film.
Sherwood Pictures’ third film Fireproof (2008) is unique among the four to date because it doesn’t feature Alex Kendrick as a main character. Instead Kirk Cameron, who starred in the TV series Growing Pains in the 1980’s and is also known for his “born-again” Christianity and evangelism ministry, was chosen to play Caleb Holt, a firefighter whose marriage is in crisis and headed for divorce. Encouraged by his father, Caleb embarks on a “Love Dare”, a 40 day ‘journey’ to strengthen his (self discipline and) marriage. On a budget of just $500,000 and with box office receipts in excess of $33 million for its four month run, Fireproof (2008) was one of the highest grossing independent films of that year.
Released September 30th, Courageous (2011) is the most critically acclaimed of the Sherwood Pictures, and it too features Alex Kendrick in a leading role, as Adam Mitchell. However, the plot also features several other men – four of whom are police officers – that, after a tragedy befalls the Mitchells, strive to establish their positions as the spiritual leaders of their families. Although each of the men’s stories is different, the central theme stems from the impact of their fathers (or a father-figure) on their lives, the men’s realization of the importance (and their stewardship) of this role in their children’s lives (and as husbands), and their subsequent “courage to change”. As with the other three films, the men’s faith in God – particularly Adam’s and Nathan’s (played by Ken Bevel, a retired Marine whose other screen credit is Fireproof (2008)) – has a major influence on the proceedings. Most viewers will find the movie to be a potent tearjerker throughout, evoking a mix of both sorrow and joyfulness. However, there is a healthy dose of comic relief – most of which involves Robert Amaya’s character – along with an uplifting conclusion which keeps it from becoming heavyhearted. Ultimately, this movie’s message and purpose – like Flywheel (2003), Facing the Giants (2006) and Fireproof (2008) – is a call to action.
The first three of these are available on DVD and through Netflix; Courageous (2011) can still be found in theaters, and its DVD release is scheduled for January 17th.
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