Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fireproof Review


Overall Grade: C+

In 2006 Sherwood Pictures (Based out of a church in Georgia) released Facing the Giants to surprising success. Fireproof is their follow-up film and it’s got a bigger budget as well as a bigger star in Kirk Cameron. After watching the film, I felt as though it’s a film that ultimately works despite its flaws, of which there are many. Many of the gripes I have about the film do tend to wilt away (although not all of them), in the face of the film’s obvious good-natured intents.

The film follows the marriage problems between Caleb the Fireman (Kirk Cameron) and Hospital PR Rep. Catherine (played inconsistently by a beautiful Erin Bethea). Both Caleb and Catherine receive advice from their family and friends, and must ultimately decide whether or not to go through with a divorce. We mostly see the decision making promise of Caleb as his father asks him to put his divorce on hold for 40 days as he takes the “Love Dare”. The “Love Dare” is a forty-day journey that instructs Caleb to attempt different things to regain the right perspective on his relationship with Catherine. Complicating things for Catherine is a likeable co-worker showering her with the attention she doesn’t get from Caleb. Will the “Love Dare” work? Will Caleb and Catherine remain married?

I think you probably will already guess the answers to that question (hint: look at the title of the film), so I’ll move on to the more important question. Does the film work? There are times when Fireproof falls into the mistake of “telling” instead of “showing” in the film. At the beginning of the film, we are plunged head first into the marital problems between Caleb and Catherine. Although we have established them as likeable people, we never see “good” moments of them together. We don’t see a tangible loss that comes from them being apart. Later in the film, rather than allow Caleb to see how a devotion to Christ and unselfish love worked in his parents marriage, or to witness an unselfish moment in one of his workmate’s marriage, Kendrick just tells us through words of wisdom from Caleb’s father and fellow fireman. What works well as a spoken testimony in church, doesn’t really work well as dramatic storytelling on the screen.

I think the biggest problem with the film is that it wanted to handle “marriage problems” with kiddie gloves. The first problems we see arise between Caleb and Catherine are simple ones; cleaning up the house (the art department didn’t get the memo that the house needed to look unkempt in order to sell that conflict), fixing dinner, paying bills, and what things to save for. Are these the big problems that the looming divorce is stemming from? I am aware that these problems can lead to divorce, but these aren’t marriage specific problems, these are roommate problems.

We hear about possible problems with online pornography, but we never see its true effect on the marriage and Caleb outside of Catherine being upset about it. It’s not surprising that the film really doesn’t deal with the issue openly, the wife herself can barely bring herself to acknowledge it by name, she calls it “looking at junk”. Any scene to show the effects of the addiction would be good. I made up a quick one talking to one of my roommates about the film; show Catherine in bed, Caleb shuts off the computer and crawls into bed. She rubs his shoulders wanting to get more intimate and he just shrugs her off. BAM! Already, we are showing the real consequences and not just talking about it. Why even include such a weighty issue, if they aren’t even going to address it by name?

Despite these faults, the central marriage conflict between Caleb and Catherine is a compelling conflict, and it truly does provide some genuinely emotional moments when they decide to stick it out and not get a divorce. It’s hard not to be moved (and indeed I was moved) by the conclusion of the film, because although the initial conflicts may seem a little shallow (as I pointed out above), the director wisely delays the resolution. There are a few moments I expected the couple to happily re-unite, but Kendrick skillfully makes the couple work harder for it. It’s the best decision in the film, and the audience is really awarded for it. I mentioned earlier that the film was low budget and it unfortunately shows on the screen; odd lighting choices, several master shots when close-ups would do better, inconsistent performances, a couple superfluous scenes (why exactly include the car accident on the train tracks?), and poor editing.

However, the film has plenty of good intentions, good lessons to teach, and a fairly good story to tell; and that is something that the biggest budgets cannot buy. With a little technical refinement, a stronger commitment to showing rather than telling (or preaching in this case), and a willingness to deal with the issues in depth (however deep it goes), Sherwood Pictures will be making the best “Christian” films out there. Well, now that I think about, they already are making the best “Christian” films out there. I look forward to what they attempt next.

1 comments:

micahmcmillan said...

Great review Kyle. I think you're right about focusing on the consequences of emotional infidelity (such as porn or flirting with a co-worker); most folks have heard that this is "sin," but don't always understand the WHY behind that label.

One thing I'm hoping will improve in other films from this group is the dialog. I haven't seen Fireproof, but I did see Facing the Giants--and one of the lines I remember as being probably the worst of all time (excluding dialog written by George Lucas) was when the wife says "Congratulations--you made the daddy team." Ugh. The "love dare" sounds about on that level, but I'll wait to comment on that till I've seen the movie.