Sunday, February 11, 2007

Review - Facing the Giants

The DVD has just come out; my sons and I went to see it in October, and my review of the theater release appeared in the December 2006 Carolina Journal. It was a legitimately enjoyable film, with both good art and good message, and it did not sink to the "Christianity wins football games" meme that some of us may have feared. I'm looking forward to having our own copy sometime soon.

Movie Review
Facing The Giants’ Surprising To Viewers and Reviewers Alike

• “Facing the Giants”; starring Alex Kendrick and Shannen Fields; Sherwood Productions; rated PG

By HAL YOUNG - Contributing Editor

RALEIGH - Grant Taylor is a coach with issues. His football team at Shiloh Christian Academy has a six-year losing streak, his one star player just transferred to a rival school, and angry parents are recruiting his assistant to take his position. He makes $24,000 a year, his car has a terminal illness, major appliances are failing at home, and he and wife Brooke are unable to have a baby. And things are about to take a turn for the worse.

In “Facing the Giants”, Grant (Alex Kendrick) is a decent man sinking in defeat on nearly every front when he realizes that his grief might not be due to his opponents or his inability, but his sense of purpose. Struggling through his personal problems, he challenges his team with a different philosophy that centers not on winning, but on striving, not on ambition, but devotion.

It will still be grueling on the field and off, as the team, the coach, and his wife find out, but the focus becomes the journey, not the destination.

Producers Alex and Steven Kendrick are associate pastors at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., and oversee the church’s media programs. The two brothers are also part of a growing movement of independent filmmakers who are bypassing Hollywood to take a practical and muscular Christian message to the wide screen. This is their second feature film, and “Facing the Giants” has become one of the surprising movies of the season.

The film made headlines in June when the Motion Picture Association of America gave it a PG rating because of its religious content, probably the first instance of this kind. Even more remarkable are the circumstances of the film’s creation; in a sense, it was a Sunday school project, as evidenced by four classes that shared the closing credits.

Bypassing Hollywood’s culture also means giving up its resources; there are no Mel Gibsons here, and the Kendricks wrote, directed, produced, acted, and edited the film for free. Alex even wrote part of the musical score. More than 500 volunteers, including all of the actors and all but five of the production staff, made it happen for just $100,000.

Does it work? Definitely. Six weeks after its release Sept. 29, the film had grossed more than $8.2 million, still ranking in the top 20 films in mid-November.

Kendrick and Fields handle their roles capably as a jock with a breaking heart and a young wife yearning for children but determined to be there for her husband. Still , “Facing the Giants” has received mixed reviews, even within the Christian community. To be sure, a couple of the actors were less than Oscar-caliber. Grant’s doctor, in his brief appearance, is as wooden as a fence post. The wheelchair-bound father of the team’s place kicker is unpolished, though likable.

Reviewers unfamiliar with Southern culture might not recognize the man who walks the school halls after hours, praying quietly for the students, as a real person in the Deep South. And while Grant’s life, and the team’s, does turn around when the coach’s spiritual priorities change, there are still uncertainty, hard work, and confrontation to address along the way.

The resolution is by no means certain until the final moments of the film. What is definite is Coach Taylor’s change in focus, and a philosophy that encompasses much more than football. “We’re not just here to get glory, earn money, and die,” he tells the team. “Football is just one of the tools we use to honor God ... If we win, we praise Him. If we lose, we praise Him. I’ve resolved to give it all to God and leave the results to Him.”

But it’s also means giving your best effort, and it’s still about football. Arkansas’ Coach Houston Nutt would agree; the night before his unranked Razorbacks faced the undefeated No. 2 Auburn Tigers in October, Nutt picked the team’s road trip movie himself — “Facing the Giants”. Twenty-four hours later, the Tigers weren’t undefeated any more.

(Carolina Journal, December 2006, p. 22)

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