I had been seeing the advertisement and reading stories about the movie, “Facing the Giants” for several months. I’m a fan of football movies of just about any genre, so I gave the articles and ads more than a passing glance. In addition, the story of how this movie came to be was intriguing to me as well.
In short, a member of a Baptist church in Georgia had a dream of producing a Christian movie that would get play in regular theaters. His first attempt went straight to video. But his second try, Facing the Giants, was picked up by a distributor and started appearing in mainstream theatres in October — mostly in the South and Southeast areas of the so-called Bible-belt. The movie was funded as a missions project by the church to the tune of $100K. They’ll now be reaping millions of dollars in profits and they’ve said they plan on using it to fund more positive family and spiritually-positive movies.
I read several reviews by multiple Christian movie reviewers and frankly, the reviews were as I expected. Negative, critical — at times, almost dismissive and mocking. Filmed on a tiny budget of $100,000, the movie has no special effects, no professional actors and none of the traditional trappings that make Hollywood movies popular and expensive.
Now, let me just interject here that I’ve come to expect some pretty unsatisfying movies springing from the imaginations of well-intentioned believers who fancy themselves breakthrough or breakoutartists in one of the most corrupt industries in the world today. In addition, there’s the whole sad library of Christian movies that were shown in church basements on New Year’s eve throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Some of the worst were “The Burning Hell” (you aren’t really a true fundy unless you’ve seen an Estes Perkle film replete with maggots and the most AWFUL acting in the history of theatre including “Jews” with terrifyingly Southern accents.), “A Distant Thunder/Thief in the Night” (Rapture scare movies that made the Left Behind movies look like Shakespeare.) and the ridiculous “If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?” which asked the burning question “Will you survive as a genuine believer when the communists take over America?”. Somewhat better, but so over-shown they became cliche’ jokes were the movies by “Unusual Films” (from Bob Jones University) like “Flame in the Wind” (starring BJII), “Wine of Morning” and my all-time favorite — “SHEFFY” which I saw at every watchnight service I attended for about 10 years straight. The recent LaHaye/Jenkins/Cloud10 movies based on the “Left Behind” series were so laughable and ridiculous (from the theology to the special effects) that they were the cinematic equivalent of a Jack Chick comic.
I don’t really consider “The Passion” a Christian film, though I saw it and it moved me. It was truly a Hollywood production like the 10 Commandments, Ben Hurand The Robe and other Hollywood religious-themed movies.
So, let’s just say that my expectations were pretty low. I almost skipped going to see “Facing the Giants” completely, but I kept hearing people who had gone say that a) they really enjoyed it and b) they thought magazines like “World” and “CT” that trashed it were way off base.
So last week I took my gang to see it. I’m glad that I did.
Let me say up front, this is not Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. To the professional critic and the artistic elitist, there is plenty to “diss” on this, I’m sure. But I didn’t go in as a critic. I was just wanting to spend an evening with my family.
In a nutshell, this is the story of a Christian high school football coach who faces multiple professional and personal obstacles and through prayer and character, sees God provide amazing reversals and ends up victorious.
Let me say up front, this movie is Christian idealism plain and simple and unapologetic. It is completely formulaic in the finest of “Rocky” traditions. The acting is by amateurs, but I will also say that as the movie goes on, the acting gets progressively better as the actors find their feet and relax. It goes right up to the brink of being schmaltzy, but never quite crosses it. There’s “preachiness“, there’s humor, there’s contrived drama and there’s just loads of idealism.
But here’s what I noticed and experienced. Everyone in the theatre that was nearly 3/4rds full, really got “into” the movie. Throughout, people laughed, cried, clapped, cheered, hooted and at the end applauded soundly. (Something I’ve never quite experienced before in a movie of any kind.) It made it fun. And this cynical old coot found himself with a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye several times during the movie as some of the experiences of the coach (both personal and professional) hit just a little too close to home to my own life experiences.
I expected to hate the movie and I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. In fact, I’ve recommended it to multiple people and I’m recommending it to the readers of this blog. Go see it. Have an open mind. Relax and just enjoy it.
Here’s why I think I liked it so much. First, the characters were totally relatable to believers. I KNEW the people in this movie — not personally, but because I’ve worked, worshipped and walked beside these folks all my life. These fresh-faced kids on the football teams have been in my classes for the last two decades. The slightly eccentric prayer warrior has been in every church I’ve attended or pastored. The coach — he’s worked for me before and sometimes he’s BEEN me. Even the fickle fans and player parentsI’ve seen in church pews and bleachers all my life. Unbelievers might mock these folks, but I’ve loved and ministered to and with people like them for years.
Secondly, it was idealistic and I like idealism. Christianity is all about idealism. We all know that life always falls short of utopia and the ideal, but the message of the Gospel and Heaven and Salvation IS an ideal. I’m OK with that.
Thirdly, I liked the messages. Perseverance, faith, worship, character, integrity — they were portrayed positively and upfront. Simplistic? Yes. Accurate and important? Yes and yes. I didn’t have to see a hypocrite or a failure or a realistic depiction of negative outcomes in order to make the movie more realistic. Life does that for me every day. I liked the fact that everything turned out positive in the end. I mean, it’s JUST a movie. It’s OK if the good guys come out on top.
I’m more than a little irritated at the artistic snobbishness that trashed this movie in many Christian magazines and websites. You know, I don’t particularly care of the schlocky paintings of Thomas Kinkaide or the cheap porcelian collectibles of the “Precious Moments” collections. But I sure know a LOT of people who do like them. They represent values and messages and memories that mean something to a lot of people. So what’s the harm in letting them enjoy it. Of course they aren’t Rembrandt’s. They aren’t the equivalent of timeless hymns or sculptures by Michelangelo. But not everything has to be worthy of the Louvre or Academy Award-worthy to be an OK evening out with the kids.
I also really like the fact that this Georgia church took a leap of faith and invested $100K in a project that will become an inspiration to millions of believers in this country. We sent our junior high kids to see it as did several other Christian schools in the area. I told our head football coach to go see it and he did and I believe he’ll now be using this to teach some values to future teams.
So, here’s my recommendation. Take a look at the trailer by clicking HERE. Then, if it comes to your town in the theater and if you go to movies, then load up the fam, get the large popcorn with extra butter and sit back and enjoy it. It’s worth it. Oh, and take a couple of extra kleenexes. You might just need them.