Judge Matt Singer would rather face the wall than watch this formulaic bit of Christian sports filmmaking again.
Our review of Facing The Giants (Blu-Ray), published September 29th, 2009, is also available.
God Is My Running Back
Unlike other movies about high school athletics in small town America, Facing the Giants doesn't look at football as religion, but rather, religion as football. That is the only non-formula thing about it. Of course, considering the film is produced by the Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia, the plot is secondary to the propaganda, and director Alex Kendrick—who also plays the lead—layers on the God talk to the point where it becomes a buzzing drone slowly drilling its way into the heads of the unconverted, gently washing our brains until we believe all our troubles can be alleviated if we just accept Jesus Christ as our savior and pigskin as the divine fabric.
Must…worship…the Lord…and…complete…halfback…option play…
Facts of the Case
It's an underdog sports movie—do you really need a plot synopsis?
"If we're not here to win football games, then why are we here?"
It is the philosophical question of modern times. At least, it is in every Inspirational Sports Movie set in a rural town where the entire population is unnaturally obsessed with high school football. Only Facing the Giants has the cojones to actually say it out loud, then hammer us over the head with the answer: We are here to honor God. And if we do, he will imbue even the shittiest of gridiron squads with the ability to steamroll over the heathens from all those secular public schools.
There is a lot to hate about this movie, not the least of which is the way it bludgeons the viewer with its message. It takes about 25 minutes for Jesus to enter the dialogue, but once He does, the film turns into an infomercial for Christianity: Order Christ today and tomorrow those F's will turn into A+'s! You will be able to kick a 50-yard field goal! You will be able to crawl the entire length of a football field with a 160-pound kid on your back! You will become fertile! Operators are standing by!
But Facing the Giants' greatest sin is not its blatant proselytizing (it's not like its agenda is hidden or anything). It's the fact that you can call the entire movie just by looking at the cover. At the beginning of the film, Coach Grant Taylor's life is a mess of problems—his team sucks ass, his car is a piece of shit, he can't get his wife pregnant, and there's a weird smell in his kitchen—and you know all those problems will be solved by the time the end credits roll. You know there will be at least one montage of the team fumbling passes and getting sacked, and another of them lodging wins on the way toward their unlikely but inevitable shot at the state championship. They will fall behind early to the bigger and stronger perennial champs before making a run late in the game. A star player will get injured in the final moments, allowing the self-doubting second-stringer to come in and win it all. And everyone will learn a valuable lesson about life, which in this case is repeated ad nauseum at the end of the film: "What's impossible with God? Nothing."
Of course, well-developed characters can cut through even the most hackneyed script. Unfortunately, none are present here. Normally in these kinds of movies, the underdogs in question are a ragtag bunch of misfits, each with clearly defined individual personalities. The Shiloh Eagles look too much like a real high school football team—meaning, no one has a personality to speak of. We get rough sketches of three of the players: Brock, the lazy defensive captain; Matt, a transfer student with a chip on his shoulder; and David, the new kid in school. The latter could have been a halfway interesting character. He plays soccer and is from Athens, Georgia, making him more bohemian, in theory, than his hick teammates. His dad is confined to a wheelchair, and basically manipulates David into trying out for the team so he can live vicariously through him. This scenario could open the door for some complex emotional conflicts; instead, David, like everybody else on the team, is mostly just a prop—an empty vessel who exists only to complete his Movie Cliché (in his case, kicking the game winning field goal) and have his life forever altered by the overwhelming power of Jeebus.
Coach Taylor is the focus of the film, and at least he is given some depth. Which means we get to see him blubber like a baby and scream at his players. Again, here is another squandered opportunity for the movie to achieve some level of complexity. As everything in his life unravels, he questions his faith and wonders out loud why God is being such a prick. Then he talks to some guy who wanders the halls of the school praying to himself, who tells him some gobbledygook about preparing his crops for rain or something. Taylor changes his coaching philosophy, replacing Xs and Os with Scripture, and everything rights itself in record time. There are two bait-and-switch moments, where it appears Taylor and his wife are not going to have all their prayers answered, then a second later, they are. According to Kendrick, who co-wrote the film with his brother Stephen, the Lord does not work in mysterious ways. Ask, believe, and you shall receive. On the positive side, Kendrick does do a semi-credible acting job—the only one in the film—if only because he looks exactly like every youth minister I've ever met in my life.
A good movie with Christian overtones can be made. And good Inspirational Sports Movies have been made. Kendrick has not succeeded in making either.
This is a sermon written specifically for the choir, and while I question the filmmakers' assertion that this is the kind of film most Christians want to see, if the sex, violence and profanity of Hollywood rubs your faith the wrong way, then this is just the right brand of uplifting swill for you. Otherwise, avoid it like a Bible salesman.
Guilty of preaching to the converted with formulaic crud.
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