Courageous (2011) PICK
Moneyball (2011) PICK
There Be Dragons (2011) PASS
Warrior (2011) PICK
Three recent home-video releases are targeted in varying ways to Christian audiences. For my money, they all hover near the edge of recommendability. I’m calling two “Picks” and one “Pass”; your mileage may vary.
I wish I could recommend There Be Dragons, an earnest historical epic featuring Charlie Cox as St. Josemaría Escrivá, but centered on a fictional protagonist, Manolo Torres (Wes Bentley). Written and directed by Roland Joffé (The Mission), the film depicts the saint as likable and virtuous, but anonymous and uncontroversial. Manolo is worse: a boring, banal protagonist whose story never comes to life.
If the DVD offered a decent featurette on St. Josemaría or Opus Dei, it might be worthwhile. Alas, the lone extra, other than deleted scenes, is a four-minute testimony by Bentley about getting sober. I interviewed Bentley and Cox, and their full stories are worth telling — but they aren’t here.
Courageous is the latest message film from Sherwood Productions, the Baptist church-owned indie company behind Fireproof, which somebody dubbed “the Protestant fireman marriage movie.” In that vein, Courageous is the “Protestant policeman fatherhood movie” — a tale of four police officers who struggle in various ways with the challenges of fatherhood and collectively commit to become more responsible fathers.
Like all Sherwood films, Courageous is preachy and schematic, but it touches upon an important topic with more skill than any of the previous films.
Then there’s Warrior, a sports film about a pair of estranged brothers who share two things: a gift for cage fighting, or mixed martial arts, and a deep antipathy for their father (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic who has returned to his Catholic faith. The family conflict is compelling, but with less healing than I hoped for, and it’s too uncritical about its brutal subject matter (unlike, say, The Fighter, which acknowledged the exploitative side of boxing).
Better than all of the above is Moneyball, one of the year’s most charming films, hitting the sweet spot of the best sports films that work equally well for fans and non-fans. Brad Pitt gives an endearing performance as Billy Beane, a failed major-league-player-turned-general manager for the small-market Oakland Athletics whose unconventional approach to ranking players led the team to unexpected glory in 2002. Beane’s scenes with his teenage daughter (he’s divorced) are among the film’s best moments.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Courageous: Some violence; brief menace to a child; drug content; references to out-of-wedlock parenthood. Moneyball: A couple of obscenities and much crass language; a few sexually themed references. There Be Dragons: Large-scale battle sequences; a number of point-blank shooting deaths; sexual themes and references. Warrior: Intense pugilism violence; some profanity, an obscenity and much crude language; brief mild innuendo; a scene of drunkenness. All teens and up. (Warrior might be too intense for younger teens.)