Praise be to Courageous for being upfront. Even the logos for the companies involved in its making and distribution, like TriStar Pictures, scream that this will be a message from on high. And it’s from the sky above that director Alex Kendrick’s camera descends on a rather un-Haggisian scene of black-on-black crime that ends with new-cop-in-town Nathan (Ken Bevel) revealing for the white women who hilariously and courageously came to his rescue that he has a toddler strapped to the backseat of the car some thug tries to steal from him. The drama with which the child is revealed is emblematic of the film’s condescension toward its characters and audience, as it makes us feel stupid, filthy even, for believing that this man would risk his life for something as material as a car.
Set in Albany, Georgia, the film is a lesson plan for God’s wayward sheep. First it regurgitates facts about the links between violence and the father’s absence from the home, then proceeds to show us how its protagonists, mostly members of the town’s police squad, and all white expect for Nathan and a goodhearted Latino handyman welcomed into their fold (good for him that he has a green card), proceed to better themselves as fathers so that their children won’t become like the blacks whose furrowed brows are the only interest the filmmakers show in their wasted lives. When Adam (Kendrick), hurting from the loss of his young daughter, asks his buddies to never let him stray from the lesson plan that will help him be a better father to his son, they’re so blinded by the glory of his blessed intentions that they can’t help but also take up the cause. In this way, Courageous doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than a crusade.
Not even the young whippersnapper cop who impregnated and ditched a cheerleader in college and has no time for religion, and whose home apparently resembles the drug den the police raid in an early scene, can resist the Lord’s call. Soon he adopts everyone else’s glassy-eyed conviction in a higher power, making amends for past misdeeds and, presumably, cleaning up his digs. One must have the courage to ignore this self-righteous pablum’s naïve, truly offensive trivialization of social realities in this country—the complete flipside of Paul Haggis’s cynical representation of the same in Crash—to even begin to appreciate its surprisingly amusing flashes of humor and its honest depiction of how people process grief. That is if you can also get past the guilt it wants you to feel for not being part of its choir.