Judge Joel Pearce's marriage is water resistant to 50 feet.
Our review of Fireproof, published January 27th, 2009, is also available.
Never leave your partner behind.
Rarely have I reviewed a film whose enjoyment depends so thoroughly on the religious background of the viewer. Undoubtedly, Christians will hail Fireproof as a great triumph for Christian filmmaking: a glossy looking "blockbuster" of their very own. For everyone else, however, the reaction will be quite different.
Facts of the Case
The story follows Caleb (Kirk "Growing Pains " Cameron), a firefighter with a lousy marriage. His wife Catherine (Erin Bethea, Facing the Giants) is unsatisfied, but Caleb doesn't understand how much of the tension is due to his terrible attitudes. There's no question, though, that their marriage is on the rocks. When it looks like the divorce is going to go through, Caleb's father gives him a diary to change his life. If Caleb can pull things together in time and find the help he needs from God, he just might be able to save his marriage.
Quite a bit has changed since Alex Kendrick directed Flywheel. His budget has gone up exponentially, enough that Fireproof looks almost like a mainstream release. Unfortunately, it only takes a few minutes to realize that this is something quite different. There are no references to Christianity for the first twenty minutes, but then it gets slathered on pretty thick. By an hour in, Fireproof has become a heavy-handed religious assault. Of course, this will only offend people who have been tricked into seeing the film, misunderstanding what is meant by the "family friendly" promises plastered on the cover.
Unfortunately, while the church was able to hire a professional film crew to shoot the film, they choose to use amateur actors from the church to play most of the roles. This, as well, is painfully evident throughout the film. It's a bizarre experience to see a film that looks this polished, but has such casual actors delivering such horrible dialogue. Each scene is a chore, especially the ones that attempt comic relief. Cameron and Bethea do bring some talent to the screen, but no amount of talent could make this dialogue tolerable. The best sequences, by far, are the two fire rescue scenes, which are exciting, well-filmed and suspenseful. They are short, though, especially in a film that shouldn't be two hours long.
The rest of Fireproof is predictable and bland. Astute viewers will know within the first ten minutes what Caleb needs to do to save his marriage. The rest of the film is a matter of waiting for him to come around. The plot gets bogged down by all the religious preachiness, which suggests the only way for Caleb to save his marriage is by finding religion and turning his life around. In the end, all it takes is genuine acts of kindness and a major gesture of love and sacrifice. I'm not saying that genuine faith isn't a transformative force in the lives of many people, but rather that it is overemphasized here as a way to rescue any marriage, no matter how damaged.
I realize how enthusiastic Christian audiences are about Fireproof and the rise of other films like it. I find it sad that religious groups have spent so long seeing their faith represented poorly on screen that a film as mediocre as Fireproof seems like a major triumph. In the Middle Ages, religious patronage resulted in the greatest works of culture: cathedrals, The Sistine Chapel, and some of the most beautiful music ever made. Now the best we can hope for, apparently, is offensive black stereotypes and hokey dialogue.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
On a more positive note, this is a very well-produced Blu-Ray release. The film looks fantastic, sporting exceptional detail and color. The sound mix is solid as well, though the Dolby TrueHD track doesn't stand out as well as the image. It's also a well-stocked disc for fans, featuring a commentary track, as well as a full load of featurettes and behind-the-scenes footage. It's a shame that fun on the set doesn't translate into quality on the screen. There are also some additional features advancing the film's religious goals, and advertising for the Love Diary that Caleb goes through. Finally, there is a music video from Casting Crowns. For fans, this Blu-Ray release is unquestionably the way to watch Fireproof.
Fireproof is sure to be celebrated by those who already buy into its values and want religious alternatives to Hollywood. They will be able to overlook the film's considerable weaknesses and create public showings in churches, hoping that the unwashed heathens will come and find salvation. I seriously doubt Fireproof will win many converts, though, as the quality of the storytelling is decades behind what's coming out in the mainstream market. If Kendrick wants to make a real dent in the secular population, he's going to need to get professionals: both in acting and writing. An eight-man film crew does not a classic make.
I'm not offended by the film's politics or religious content, but I'm a film
critic and this one is guilty.
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