I first saw Facing the Giants on DVD, at home alone with my wife. I had mixed emotions. The film was undeniably attractive. It drew me in. It moved me. At the same time, the acting stunk. The other production values were high. It was well directed and brilliantly written. The leads were played competently, some of the rest of the cast did okay, but others were awful. In fact, one character made us burst out laughing with almost every appearance. And it was not a comic part.
Then I learned why the acting was so bad. They were volunteers. The film was made by Sherwood Baptist Church, Albany, Georgia for only a $100,000. It would wind up making over ten million dollars in its theatrical release. The actors were people who knew they weren't professionals, knew some guy in Lubbock, Texas might guffaw at them, but did it anyway. They laid their pride on the line, they trusted the writing and directing . . . and they made a movie. A really good movie!
When I was given the opportunity to see a preview of Sherwood's new film, Fireproof, I was anxious to see what they had come up with . . . until I learned the subject matter. Watching a marriage fall apart, even if it will probably be saved in the end, is not my idea of entertainment.
[Caution: The next paragraph contains spoilers for the film, Facing the Giants .]
The subject matter of Fireproof reminded me of the one flaw I saw in the writing of Facing the Giants. In that movie, the coach goes out and prays, and things start to go right and they just keep getting better the rest of the way. It seemed kind of easy. You can't show the deep struggles of life in a 90 minute film, but this seemed almost like false advertising. Say a little prayer, add some positive attitude, and the next thing you know, your football team wins the state championship, and, even though doctors say it's practically impossible for you to father children, by the end of the film, you're a daddy.
Would Fireproof solve things just as easily — say a prayer and poof, the marriage is fixed? Or, even worse, would it be a sad-sack chick flick with a happy ending that comes about because someone followed some lame formula for marital bless?
Well, okay, there are chick flick elements, but there are also fire trucks — big red ones with exciting fires and heroic firemen.
The film stars Kirk Cameron as firefighter, Caleb Holt, and Erin Bethea as Caleb's wife, Catherine. The film begins with the two having grown apart. Their marriage crackles with anger and mutual resentment. They are both ready for divorce.
Caleb's dad convinces him to take "The Love Dare" — "a 40-day challenge for husbands and wives to understand and practice unconditional love." You can buy one on Amazon.com (where I got the description) but Caleb's father wrote out the one in the movie by hand. At first, the fireman does it because he promised his dad he would, but as the film passes, he begins to pour his heart into it. He realizes how much he wants to save the marriage, but the damage already done seems to make it beyond redemption.
The struggle of this repentant sinner to win again the heart of the wounded woman who once loved him but no longer even cares, makes a fantastic story — better even than the fires and fire trucks.
The emotional scenes, the ones most guys dread in typical chick flicks, will draw you in, make you flinch, make you want to look away, but you won't be able to. Kirk Cameron always owned a winsome screen presence, but now he's a mature motion picture actor. He could carry any kind of film. In Fireproof, he plays a convincing and engaging action hero, he shows glimpses of the deft comic touch he's had since youth, and plays the dramatic scenes with power, never over the top, but with real, even raw, emotion.
In an early scene, Caleb loses his temper and begins shouting at Catherine that she doesn't understand what he does, and, for a 21st century American male, he uses the zinger that expresses his deepest hurt. He accuses her of not respecting him. She winces from his physically threatening movements. She shows real horror, not only at what he has become, but at what they and their marriage have become.
And we, the audience, still like him — even though he's being a jerk, even though he's lashing out at this woman who we also like. We hurt for them both.
Erin Bethea's only previous film role was a four line part in Facing the Giants . But she's perfectly cast here. She holds her own with a world class actor. It's hard to believe she's not more experienced. She's real. I feel like I know this woman.
Sadly, the other actors range from very bad, to not quite so bad, to pretty good — better than Giants , but still the outstanding flaw in the film.
Bob Scott's cinematography is striking and beautiful, enhancing every scene. The Christian-pop songs on the soundtrack also enhance the film, but the real musical treasure here is so well done, you might not even notice. Mark Willard wrote the original music here, as he did for Sherwood's previous productions. And, again, it is masterful. Much of the film's power and beauty comes from Mark's music.
Stephen Kendrick and Alex Kendrick are God's gift to motion pictures. The talent shown in their joint writing, and Stephen's directing and acting, are almost impossible to overstate. How can a movie be this good, the film-going experience this rich, when half the actors are bad? The answer is great writing, great directing, and an anointing from on high.
Go see Fireproof. If you possibly can, go see it today or tomorrow. For Hollywood, it's all about opening numbers and it's fun when a Christian film shakes them up a bit.
Fireproof is rated PG. It opened nationwide, September 26, 2008.
Fireproof Movie Review
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