Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Fireproof": a review

Spoiler-free

Last night, my dear wife and I saw the movie Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron and a lot of people I didn't recognize.

Short review: see it.

Longer review: this is from the people who brought us Facing the Giants. That was a good movie; this is better.
We meet fireman Caleb Holt, whose marriage to Catherine is on the rocks. Sharp, jagged, deadly rocks. The movie looks over both of their shoulders, seeing how they deal (or don't deal) with the issues threatening to end their union.

As the story moves on, we meet Caleb's parents (— his dad physically resembles J. I. Packer with a Southern accent; somehow Caleb and Catherine didn't pick up their parents' accents) as well as Catherine's. Coworkers at the fire station and the hospital are brought in and developed in living color, often to genuinely hilarious effect. Everyone "feels" real, and dialogue matches with performance to populate the movie with believable, three-dimensional characters.

What Fireproof does have is drama, suspense, action, a lot of laughs, emotional resonance, tension, and resolution. What it doesn't have is foul language, gratuitous violence, blasphemy, sex. And it has the Gospel, and the Word of God.

As a movie, the production values are decent, and the acting is professional and heartfelt. Only two parts gave me the feeling that the beloved church secretary had been given a role because everyone adores her — and they weren't all that bad. They just stood out because of the overall quality of the main performances.

As a rule, movies have to work pretty hard to make my wife laugh, and she was rolling, as was I. The humor was fresh and crackling, as many of the emotions were raw and moving. There actually are several sequences that are an absolute panic. One in particular interweaves each spouse talking to friends that is so deftly-handled and so funny, I think it'd make a mannequin laugh.

I think the movie would be lost on young children, but anyone over about 12 will benefit from something in Fireproof.

If that's a reservation, then it's the only one I have in heartily recommending it.

Look, if you complain about language, violence, and other nastiness in movies, put your bucks where your mouth is. Find where this is playing hear you, take your wife or friend(s), and see it.

Spoilery
Some Christian stories have differed little from Chick tracts, with flat characters and cartoonish situations. Not so here. The marriage isn't troubled; it's about over. Both spouses are in the process of putting their arms around the concept of divorce, and actually seeing it as a preferable solution.

But Caleb's dad is a Christian who says he and his wife have worked through major issues in their marriage. He challenges Caleb to give it forty days, each day doing something that his dad will explain to him in a book, as he goes along. Caleb, though not a Christian, goes along.

At first, his efforts are genuine but minimal and half-hearted. His wife reacts badly, or not at all. It doesn't "work." His dad urges him to stick with it, and he does.

At a critical juncture Dad drives out and shares the Gospel with Caleb. It's a very natural-feeling, effectively-done sequence, and it's pivotal to the plot. Caleb's motivations change, as do his efforts.

But his wife doesn't. She's all but in the arms of another man. It's a near thing, and her own heart changes just in the nick of time.

Like Facing the Giants, the movie has a happy ending — almost too happy. There's a little surprise on top of the ending that's nice... close to too nice. In Facing the Giants, they win, he gets a truck, his wife gets a baby, Lassie comes home, all his hair grows back, Reagan returns for a third term. One feels overkill, and folks have accused the movie of Osteenism.

I doubt anyone will lodge that accusation here. The trials are real, and hard. The discipleship that makes a difference is also gruelling and far from simple. I have no doubt that it will touch a lot of hearts and lives, and pray with my wife that God will use the movie broadly.

Of course it leaves unanswered questions. What if a woman is married to a man who dives into a flurry of activity to stem a crisis, then reveals he's not truly repented at all? What if a man is married to a woman who is so in love with self-manufactured misery that she is impossible to woo or win? What if it doesn't "work"?

And (some will ask) what's up with giving these Biblical principles to an unbeliever to work out? Is that legalism, moralism, the-Bible-as-successful-living-manual?

First, I don't think the movie guarantees it will "work." The forty days aren't presented that way. And besides, it actually doesn't "work" in forty days. When her heart finally starts to soften, she asks him what day he's on. "Forty-three," he answers. She points out it was only for forty days, and he replies, "Who says I have to stop?"

Second, I think the forty days' regimen does serve, in the movie, as the Law should. Caleb finds he can't do it. It's in the context of this, when he's brought low, "tenderized" as it were, that Packer — er, sorry, his father — points him to the law of God and shows him his sin. Then he's ready for the Gospel.

In short, and once again: see it.

PS — it's kind of fun to sit through the end-credits.

1. You can tell it was made by a Baptist church: I don't recall ever seeing so many credits for caterers and food-donors!

2. I also don't recall a movie crediting so many babysitters!

UPDATE I:
Now, this is remarkable. The review says, “Fireproof” may not be the most profound movie ever made, but it does have its commendable elements, including that rarest of creatures on the big (or small) screen: characters with a strong, conservative Christian faith who don’t sound crazy.

Source?

New York Times.

I kid you not.

UPDATE II:
We showed the movie to our boys, ages 10 and 14. Given that it is a drama about a relationship, though sprinkled with some terrific humor and a dose or two of action, we weren't sure what they'd think. Bored? Tepid? In and out?

They loved it.

The DVD includes some hysterical out-takes and gags, as well as a series of deleted scenes, and very funny "Fireproof in 60 Seconds."

22 comments:

chrish said...

Well, this sounds like a movie I'd like to see. Unfortunately, it's not playing in my city. Instead, I can watch a movie whose title is profane, and is apparently an exact description of the pornography therein. But at leas it's artsy and on the edge.

I love Canada.

Kim K. said...

I'll probably see it even though I'm kinda sick of it being promoted rather heavily at my church - and that's putting it mildly. Our church bought out two screenings at the local theater and tomorrow starts a 6 week sermon series on marriage in which most of the illustrations will be taken directly from the movie, I'm sure. As important as I think this topic is, I feel a bad case of over-kill coming on.

Fred Butler said...

When I think of Christian movies, I think of "Thief in the Night" or some of the more dreadful 80s era films like "Kevin Can Wait." Though one classic I still love just because it was before its time addressing seeker-sensitive issues is "The Gospel Blimp." I wish they would remake that one with the emergent issues at center.

I could go on about the terrible production value and acting of "Christian" films, but time won't allow it. I want to see a Christian film as powerful as "Saving Private Ryan" or "Braveheart" that doesn't water down the gospel to some generic "God" or is centered around a moralistic, evidentialist driven theme.

At any rate, I hope to see it before it leaves the movie house, but getting a baby sitter willing to watch 4 kids is a challenge unto itself.

Gilbert said...

So, Fred, have you seen this one?

Here's what USA today said about it...

http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2008-09-25-fireproof_N.htm

And Newsblaze...

http://newsblaze.com/story/20080926142357mill.nb/topstory.html

And the Gap Band is not in here, so no cheese allowed! :-)

John said...

Sounds good; thanks for the review. Maybe someday I'll hitch up my team and travel out of the sticks to where I can see it.

Blessings,

LeeC said...

Yeah gotta find me a sitter!
Another on coming up is "No Greater Love" at nogreater lovethemovie.com.

Our former youth paster Jay Underwood is in this one and it looks awesome covering some tough issues.

JOYce@pfg said...

Refreshing.

ps. Doesn't God's Word/way work even when it doesn't appear to have worked(make sense?)? There are not regrets of "I should have or could have" acted on absolute Truth and happiness through holiness above feelings that simply may not wanna. No regrets for one(or more if there are children or friends or extended family involved), that is.

God's Word never returns void of His sovereignty to which we are not always privy to every facet. Yes? And what a conviction of Kingdom living to onlookers that just may not get it, btw. Consider the impact of and on-screen kiss being in reality with Kirk's wife. How convicting must the behind-the-scenes integrity of being faithful to his vow/wife/family/marriage, paramountly to His God, be to Hollyweird lemmings? OH! that the glory be rightly placed in films labeled Christian.

Looking forward to the movie on DVD/VOD. :-)

DJP said...

I use "work" in the common sense of "achieve my desired result." The Bible makes it crystal-clear that God's way sometimes does not "work" in the specific sense that I might conceivably treat ____ (anyone) precisely as God wishes me to, with precisely the heart-attitude He wishes to see in me, and ____ (anyone) still may hate me, resent me, and abuse me horribly.

Spouses are no exception.

That's my point. I'd bristle if the movie preached a message anything like "Do these simple steps, and you will make your spouse ____."

There is no formula for making any other human being do anything from the heart.

As I just argued at great length.

CA RN to Honduras Missionary said...

Ah well - considering we don't get many movies in Honduras, I can only assume this will never make the big screen here. Will have to wait until video...sigh...

LeeC said...

I haven't seen it yet but one of the parts that made me want to stand up and shout "Yeah!" was in one of the shorts I saw where when Kirks character was frustrated and shouted to his dad about how the book wasn't working or he can't make it work or some such and his dad said basically "yup, your right. You can't." :D

Dawg Doc said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rhology said...

Very good movie.
I laughed. I cried. (Didn't hurl, though.)

I did cringe, though, at the nearly-fatal-to-their-marriage fight, when Caleb was in his wife's face like that. I felt such pain! It was a terrible thing to experience, and know that such things actually go on.
God grant that I would never raise my voice at my wife.

And yes, I believed Kirk Cameron was a jerk. That such a great guy with such a great face could come across as nearly despicable is a testament to his performance. Well done.

DJP said...

Procedural note:

When you're banned, you're banned. Trying to sneak in under a new alias just adds deception to other wrongs. It isn't a move in the right direction, to say the least.

Rachael Starke said...

DJP and the NYT on the same page???? Just what kind of "Through the Looking Glass" kind of country has this become???

Maybe this is their way of announcing they've discovered that the root cause of their PDS is actually CDS (Christian Derangement Syndrome) and they've been getting some help. Reading some good blogs, perhaps....

DJP said...

Yeah; kind of cool, their coming to see things my way, isn't it?

And yes to your second thought. Wouldn't that be nice? It does sound as if they're grudgingly beginning to see it.

~Mark said...

So far every review I've heard of the movie has been positive! Our station has been giving tix and doing publicity interviews and this has really been a unique experience when compared to other efforts.

Very, very nice surprise!

DJP said...

Come back and tell me what you think when you see it, Mark.

dac said...

It is a seriously good movie. My wife and I went on Friday night. I took my three daughters (15,17,20) to it tonight, then dinner to talk about it. It is the only movie I have ever paid to see twice, and it was worth it.

7:30 Friday night showing was sold out. Sunday 4:30 was about 2/3's sold.

Our pastor has not seen it, and had some of the concerns that kim k addressed - over promotion, using Christianity to sell a product. I have already recommended him going.

JOYce said...

I use "work" in the common sense of "achieve my desired result." The Bible makes it crystal-clear that God's way sometimes does not "work" in the specific sense that I might conceivably treat ____ (anyone) precisely as God wishes me to, with precisely the heart-attitude He wishes to see in me, and ____ (anyone) still may hate me, resent me, and abuse me horribly.

Spouses are no exception.

That's my point. I'd bristle if the movie preached a message anything like "Do these simple steps, and you will make your spouse ____."

There is no formula for making any other human being do anything from the heart.


"His" result vs. "me, my, and mine". We're on the same page. :-)

tainted02 said...

My wife and I just saw this movie over the weekend and were moved by it. It brought us closer to God and to each other, and isn't that what it all is really about.

Simply Our Opinion
http://simplyouropinion.com

KT said...

I am watching the movie right now and disappointedly, it is poor quality acting, low budget and a sappy Hallmark kind of movie/story. It makes some good points but no one in this day and age will sit through it long enough to get the good points. I am so sad. I really had hopes this time that it was going to be a high quality movie but once again, the christians have failed the film industry. When God when? KT

DJP said...

Hm. Why do I suspect that it isn't the quality of the acting or the production-values that really bothers you?