Children raised without involved fathers are far more likely than children with fathers to live below the poverty line, suffer illness, commit crime, go to jail, do drugs, perform poorly in school, and become absent fathers themselves. Many sociological factors contribute to the fatherhood decline, but the makers of Courageous, which opened September 30, aren't interested in placing blame. Instead, they are calling men to buck the trend and make a heroic commitment.

Courageous, the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures (Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Flywheel), is a step forward for the church-based company. With each outing—and bigger budgets and better production values—they become more adept at artfully exploring characters, relationships, and the theme underlying all their films: conversion. While Sherwood's tendency toward didactic storytelling persists, Courageous is its most ambitious and watchable film to date.

From the start, it's evident how far the film company has and hasn't come. Courageous opens with a grabber that establishes a main character as a competent hero, touching on themes of fatherhood and self-sacrifice by showing rather than telling. But as two characters drive away, they muse moralistically about whether they could have matched the heroic paternal devotion they just witnessed. A lighter touch would have felt more like a movie and less like a sermon illustration.

Perhaps that's not entirely fair. Sherwood is, after all, a church-based ministry as well as an indie film company. Perhaps a certain "Davey and Goliath for grownups" vibe is simply part of their milieu, and even what their audiences want and expect.

Courageous is a loose-knit ensemble piece about ...

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