04 October 2008

Fireproof (Spoilers)

Drew and I saw the Kendricks Brothers' newest release, Fireproof, last night. (Warning: this post may seem nit-picky, but I'm approaching it as a student, trying to learn what I can from those who are going before me, both things to emulate and things to avoid. The Kendricks have my utmost respect - they've done three times on a full-length scale, what I've only begun on a short scale - and which I can't really complete because my cast-members have all grown too much.)

Firefighter Caleb Holt is a hero to many in the town of Albany, Georgia, risking his life to save those in danger, but he's not a hero to his wife, Catherine. They're on the verge of divorce when Caleb's father gets involved, in an effort to save their marriage, and perhaps, Caleb, himself.

The story was solid and down-to-earth, about real people you might live next door to (if you're the Randolphs). There wasn't much that required suspending disbelief (except for Kirk Cameron's complete lack of southern drawl when even his parents were obvious southerners - maybe Kirk isn't so good with dialects and not trying was a better choice than trying and doing a poor job). However, there were very few surprises in the film, except for the last twist which, I must admit, I didn't see coming. The major third act plot point was fairly obviously telegraphed in the first act. I also didn't find it as sentimental as the Kendricks' past films - a point in their favor. And, no, I didn't cry, even though I was rooting for our protagonists.

Production values were better than Facing the Giants and much better than Flywheel. Their camera work is improving, but I'd like to see more close-ups to give a bit more variety and a closer window on the characters' reactions and emotions. Editing is improving, but I hope tightens up in future films.

Many of the actors seemed physically distant from one another, as if they didn't want to invade each other's personal space, which gave an akward feel to some of the scenes. (I understand this last point - it's something I'm learning to get over in my own acting.)

The humor helped keep things from getting too heavy. But it would have been nice if more of the humor and the secondary plotlines had intersected with the main plot. If most of the secondary plotlines had been removed, we would've had essentially the same film. Because of that, the storyline felt a bit loose with extraneous scenes.

I appreciated the visuals - Alex is learning to weave them in with less appearance of effort. The scene containing the turning point of Caleb's character was good - instead of preaching, one character asked another a question and the answer was exactly what he himself needed to hear and the point was communicated with a great visual.

I was grateful that they jettisoned the prosperity gospel overtones from their first two films, in which, everything about the protagonists needed to be changed, everything in their lives was falling apart, and everything did change through the course of the films. Fireproof homed in a bit more focusedly on specific issues, which made it easier to relate to the story.

The Kendricks Brothers' character development ability is improving. Jay Austin was a cad, plain and simple. Grant Taylor was basically clueless about almost everything. Caleb Holt, however, was a good guy, someone with friends, a generally nice person, but with flaws - much more like a real man.

I have a bit of criticism about the dialog.

First, all the main characters (Caleb, Catherine, Caleb's dad, and Michael) and the supporting characters whenever they had something important to say, seemed to speak with Alex Kendrick's voice. The rhythms of speech, the vocabulary, the phrasing all reminded me of interviews I've seen with Alex. While not cardboard, the main characters could have been more rounded and individual if they'd had their own individual voices. The brothers have shown that they can write characters who are individuals (many of the supporting characters sparkled with charm and individuality and had some of my favorite lines in the film) - I hope they apply this ability to their main characters in their next film.

Secondly, I think there was too much Christian jargon in the film. Our culture has lost its biblical underpinnings and words like covenant aren't as well understood as they used to be. Instead of trying to educate the audience about the meaning of the words, I think it might be better to talk about the concepts without necessarily using the words themselves.

Thirdly, everyone seemed to speak in complete sentences, even during highly-charged emotional scenes. This added to some of the stilted feel and slowed those scenes down, even while everyone was rushing through their lines. And it made the grammatical errors stand out in neon (although they always stand out in neon to me); it's easier to suspend that disbelief if the whole tenor of a character's speech makes those errors fit. Dialog needs to sound natural to the ear, even though it isn't really like real speech.

The film peripherally tackled a difficult subject - pornography - and made it work for a family audience. However, as difficult as Caleb's struggle was, I don't think it was real enough. Men don't walk away simply out of love for their wives - in addition to prayer and the Gospel working in a man's heart, it takes other men coming alongside and offering accountability and tough love to break that hold; the Lord works through his body.

Lots of pluses and minuses, but on the whole, I think it's a good, solid film and recommend it.

  • Caleb Holt's truck has a Jay Austin Motors tag on it, a reference to Flywheel.
  • The kiss at the end didn't involve Erin Bethea, who played Catherine Holt, but Kirk Cameron's real-life wife, Chelsea Noble, dressed up as Catherine - notice that we never see Catherine's face while they embrace and the kiss is filmed in silhouette.
  • Production budget: $500,000
  • To-date gross: $8.4 million

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