Ever notice that when a problem appears on the horizon, it is generally followed by another, then another, usually in quick succession? The car breaks down, so the dishwasher follows suit, or your back goes out. Mostly they are petty annoyances that can be resolved by the end of the day. But add on psychological fears and doubts and suddenly those minor irritants become Goliaths. Facing the Giants is an important film because it deals with that conundrum.
Being a critic, I was sent a screener DVD of the new film Facing the Giants (rated PG, opening 9/29/06). Now, being a Christian critic, I am expected by some to support any movie containing a gospel message – even one that suspiciously looks much like a “church” film, which Facing the Giants could legitimately be called, as the writer/producer/director/star is indeed a church pastor. But the one person you can’t ask to support a film on its spiritual intentions alone is the film reviewer. He must examine a Christian-themed film like any other film. So I am very glad to be able to give a positive critique of this new limited release.
Facing the Giants is the story of Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick), a coach who has never led his Shiloh Eagles to a winning season. But if six years of lackluster games have been dismal, today tops everything: his star player is transferring to another school, a group of fathers are secretly meeting to fire him as head coach, and he and his wife, Brooke (Shannen Fields), face infertility. Help arrives not in the form of a star quarterback but a visitor who urges Grant to lift his team aspirations beyond a football goal. Fueled by renewed faith, Grant gives his players a different game plan, daring them to believe in the impossible on and off the field.
You may recall hearing about this film earlier this year when both the Christian and secular press reported the MPAA’s decision to assign it a PG rating, despite the fact that it contains no objectionable language, sexual situations or excessive violence. The MPAA board felt the film had too many religious references, specifically Jesus Christ, and that non-Christian parents should be warned that their children would be subjected to Christian indoctrination.
Financed on a shoestring budget, with Associate Pastors Alex and Stephen Kendrick acting as an artistic and technical two-man army, the issues of faith and fear have been addressed within a satisfying sports movie. Oh, there are the usual filmmatic shortcomings associated with well-meaning religious storytelling. This awkwardness is seen especially in the opening scenes, where both actors and introductory dialogue are clumsy and forced. I actually uttered, “Uh-oh,” when the first attempt at humor deflated like an airless football. But within minutes, something special began to happen. First, the story kicked in. Now, story, for you younger readers, used to be a main ingredient in the filmmaking process before special effects and cartoonish concepts became cinema kings. So it’s nice to see an involving viewers can relate to; one that provides positive answers to nagging spiritual questions.
Second, and most amazing, suddenly I felt the Holy Spirit’s presence. It was as if He was showering spiritual knowledge and blessing upon the project, and upon this viewer. The film took on a sincere life, one that seemed to comfort while extolling biblical principles. This was something special I seldom see in theatrical releases. And I mean very seldom.
In a phone conversation with the film’s director/writer/star Alex Kendrick, (Minister of Media at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia), I discovered a sincere man who respected the medium of film and wanted to entertain as well as represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As I mentioned, I felt the Holy Spirit upon me as I viewed the film and asked Alex if his crew were similarly touched during production.
“Absolutely. Except for my decision to get married and to go into the ministry, I don’t think I have ever prayed for anything as much as we have for this movie. I remember weekly going to our prayer tower when we were in the writing stage and my brother Stephen and I and the staff would pray over the whole process; the writing, the casting, the shooting. There wasn’t a day went by from start to finish that we as a church staff or a movie crew did not start the day off with prayer.”
As the central theme has to do with faith and a relationship with Christ, I asked the filmmaker if he had received any feedback from non-Christians.
“We have. Some looking at the technical aspects have said that this is no big-budgeted Hollywood movie, and that the acting is certainly not Academy Award caliber. But see, that wasn’t what we were shooting for. We wanted to be excellent, but we’re not trying to win any awards, here. The other comments were very positive. There were some people, even some atheists who said that this movie touched them emotionally. They even said they’d see it again.”
Aware that this moving story was fictional, Pastor Kendrick was quick to point out that everything in the film had actually happened.
“It’s kind of an amalgam of real events, even though they didn’t all happen to one coach or one team. But in our church, we’ve had couples that were told by their doctor that it was medically impossible for them to have children. And after we prayed with them, two or three couples ended up having biological children. Now that hasn’t been true for everyone. We have some people that are still having trouble with infertility. But we’ve seen God work miracles in that arena. We’ve also seen a kid kick a 50-yard field goal, like in the movie. A coach really was given a car in Bainbridge, Georgia. We wanted to incorporate things we have seen God do in the lives of our church membership or people in our community. Being a movie, we had to condense many things and incorporate those miracles into one team and community.”
Aware that there is a huge Christian market, thanks to The Passion of the Christ, Sony Pictures is releasing the film through its Dimension Films division in hundreds of theaters across the U.S. This is one worth looking for.