Monday, January 26, 2009

Fireproof Review ... The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This movie was viewed from a review DVD provided by the distributor.

The plot:
At home with his wife of seven years, fireman Caleb Holt shows little of the bravery he displays on the job, and has a failing marriage as a result. Fighting over every little thing, Caleb and his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea), are on the verge of signing divorce papers when Caleb's father and coworkers urge him to approach his marriage in the same way he fights vicious flames. When Caleb's father gives him the "Love Dare," a 40-day guide to religiously motivated marriage help, Caleb begins a difficult journey to reclaim his wife, and in the process, his faith in God.

With several action-packed scenes, FIREPROOF uses fire metaphors in its exploration of marriage. The film offers an alternative to the common romantic comedy and, some might argue, a more multidimensional view of romance. The film examines both the ups and inevitable downs of married life, offering faith as a prescription for saving what may at first glance appear to have already failed. Likely to please its target audience, the film offers a fresh perspective on marriage and inspiring relationship tips viewers may want to try regardless of their faith.
The intended audience: Christians and married couples

Will they like it?: Yes.

Will everyone else like it?: Doubtful.

This is a typical "Christian movie" and to make sure we get the point, they hit us over the head with it like a hammer on a nail. There is little "art" or "story" in this movie and that leaves those uninterested in Christian themes or marriage in the cold.

As someone who has helped present several marriage retreats as well as gone on one of my own that we repeat annually, I can testify that the movie hits on crucial points for a successful marriage. What they are telling us are key points in how to serve our spouse willingly and lovingly as Jesus set the example for us.

I did like the fact that the husband takes truly heroic measures in changing his behavior and that it must be sincere before it begins to change him and, therefore, become something that his wife will accept as real. I also like that the husband's parents spring to his aid with the 40 Days book and also with constant prayer. That felt very real to me. The other thing that felt very real was the affirmation Caleb receives toward the end.

I also liked very much the father's bravery in speaking the truth about his faith to Caleb who makes it clear, in very realistic terms, that he has no interest in anything Christian. The story falls somewhat short in what revelation prompts Caleb to make a life changing decision but does a very good job, on the other hand, with showing a revelation develop in the wife's understanding.

Although I am critical of the story, they still managed to surprise us in a couple of spots with their twists which helped even out some rough spots from elsewhere.

Some of the actors are locals from where the film was shot (or so I believe from the publicity info). If so, someone should sign those nurses up for contracts. They were a delight, fully believable, and our favorite characters. I also especially enjoyed Ken Bevel's best friend role. He was believable and engaged our sympathies as the friend who has been down the hard road of recovering his marriage from trouble.

Before I go into this, let me be clear. I don't have a problem with movies created for a specific audience. The Passion of the Christ was made for Christians and I found it to be a devotional experience. Mel Gibson had the advantage of Hollywood clout and was able to produce a piece that was beautiful, sounded beautiful, and had a lot of money invested to do so. Many small movies do not have this luxury. That is fine. Movies are all about the story. If a story is well thought out and engaging then the trappings do not matter so much. Even subpar acting can be forgiven because we are so engaged in the story.

This movie was shot on a shoe-string budget in thirty days. I do not mind that. I have seen many indie movies with low production values (The Castle and Eagle vs Shark both come to mind) and enjoyed them thoroughly. That would because there was a fully realized story that had fully realized characters.

Unfortunately, Fireproof forgot to give us a story along the way. That is not really true, actually. It is extremely focused on a bad marriage and plunges us into it with little else as the main focus. There were clear attempts to give a well-rounded story by including the nurses at the hospital and the hijinks at the fire station, as well as the firefighters performing daring rescues from precarious situations. Some of these worked while others were predictable. However, when one is dealing with a subpar story then the acting needs to be fantastic to carry it off. This was largely not true in this movie.

This movie was fortunate in having a wide distribution and earning a good profit. I see that the director and a relative wrote the story. I hope in the future they will use a good chunk of that money to hire a screenwriter to flesh out and polish the story.

They gave us an extremely one-sided story in which the husband is the bad guy and the wife is the victim. Regardless of the fact that we see the wife do several things which she should not if she is truly blameless, this is all implied as a result of the husband's neglect. Never do we see her take part of the blame.

As well, the wife is hampered from getting any advice about her marriage because her mother is incapacitated from a stroke and cannot talk. Why does the wife not turn to her father? Presumably he might have something to say about marriage. The gaggle of friends piling on the husband-bashing advice could have included at least one person with a tad of understanding.

The men and women were very divided throughout the movie, to the point of having the husband very angry at his mother the whole time. We were rooting for his dad to give him a whap upside the head for his complete disrespect of her.

It felt as if people who hated men wrote the script, which is ironic because it was men who wrote it. Perhaps a woman should have helped polish it.

IN THE END ... I still recommend it if you are in the target audience.
I know it sounds as if I hated this movie. I did not. As I say it is very good for the intended audience. I recommend it to Christians and married couples, with the reservations above. If you are expecting a "Christian movie" then you will not be disappointed.

I just wish it could have been something that would have spoken past those boundaries to those who fall outside the specific audience.

These movies do not have marriage ostensibly as their main point but as our family reflected on Fireproof, these are the ones that we felt brought up very good points as well as being good movies overall.
  • Regarding Henry
  • Shall We Dance (Japanese version)
  • The Paper
  • Parenthood
  • The Castle
  • World Trade Center
  • Firefly
More about "Christian Movies and Art"
To be blunt, if a film purports to be a “Christian film” it supposedly is done for the glory of God. You don’t glorify God by making lousy movies.

We need great movies.
Read Scott Nehring's article Less Christian Art - More Christian Artists.

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