Certain Christian churches and organizations in North America preach something often called ï¿½the prosperity gospel.ï¿½ In a nutshell, this refers to the idea that God wants us to be rich, physically, emotionally and materially.
Itï¿½s a pretty controversial message, but also a very attractive one. After all, what could be better than marrying Christianity to the American dream?
Facing the Giants presents the gospel of prosperity in a high school football movie. Before I get into the fil…ï¿½s plot and its many heavy-handed messages, I should say that this DVD represents a pretty impressive feat. You see, this movie was produced by a southern-U.S. church. The director and leading man is a church pastor. Much of the cast is made up by volunteers from the churchï¿½s congregation. They shot the film with just one camera on a shoe-string budget of $100,000, with a crew of volunteers and only a few film professionals. To date, theyï¿½ve grossed about $10 million.
Like I said, pretty darn impressive. That information also provides the all-important context for this review, context which has presented me with a dilemma; do I apply a handicap and praise the film for what it does accomplish, or stack it up against the big budgets and seasoned talent of Hollywoodï¿½s best? With the handicap, I could say some good things about Facing the Giants. Without it, I feel compelled to attack the film for weak acting, awkward scripting and an outlandish story that takes its own messages too far.
Hereï¿½s the plot. If you donï¿½t want any spoilers, skip down to the video portion of this review. Shiloh Christian Academyï¿½s football team hasnï¿½t made the playoffs in six years. Head coach Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick) is a down-trodden guy; his job is in jeopardy, heï¿½s poor, his car barely runs, and he and his wife, Brooke (Shannen Fields), have been trying for years to have a child with no success, because ï¿½ we learn ï¿½ poor Grant is impotent. Heavy stuff, right?
Not to worry. By putting his faith in God, Grant accomplishes amazing things. He leads his entire football team to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, which has the added benefit of turning them into a powerhouse team in less than a month. With the team winning games, Grant gets a big raise ï¿½ there goes the poverty concern. Obviously, his job is no longer at risk, because the parents who were scheming to have Grant fired do a full 180. One of them even anonymously buys him a brand-new Ford F-150, all decked out with leather interior. So no more worries about the rust bucket heï¿½s been driving. But wait, thereï¿½s more. With God on his side, Grant leads his team to win the state championship against a far superior team. And if thatï¿½s not enough prosperity, it turns out that maybe Grant isnï¿½t so infertile after all, because his loving wife becomes pregnant. By the end of the film, child number two is on the way.
An important message thatï¿½s stated several times in the film is ï¿½we praise the Lord when we win, and we praise Him when we lose.ï¿½ Thatï¿½s a great message for Christians, but unfortunately the story doesnï¿½t practice whatï¿½s being preached. I donï¿½t have a problem with the team winning the state championship. Thatï¿½s expected. But when Brooke manages to become pregnant, I lose all respect for this film. I wanted to see coach Taylor and his wife praise God even in the midst of the heartbreak of having their hopes for a child crushed. The juxtaposition of that pain with the glorious success of Grantï¿½s football team and his coaching career would really have driven home the aforementioned message.
Instead, Facing the Giants tells viewers that God will make everything perfect if you have faith, respect your parents, and not surf porn on the Internet. Sorry, did that last part come out of nowhere? It does in the film, too. In the middle of Grantï¿½s TSN-turning-point speech to his team, when he explains his new faith philosophy for football and everyday life, he says they should honour God on the football field, in the classroom and when theyï¿½re at home surfing the Internet. Nice. And subtle, too.
As a Christian, I would be hesitant to recommend this film to a non-believer, because I think it really sends the wrong message about God, faith and prosperity. I donï¿½t agree with the promises made in Facing the Giants, and I donï¿½t want impressionable people getting the wrong idea. But hey, itï¿½s a free country, and obviously I have no say in what people want to watch, and how theyï¿½ll react.
Now Iï¿½ve really digressed. Iï¿½ll conclude this portion of my review with this: Facing the Giants is an impressive feat of filmmaking for such an amateur project, and regardless of my complaints about the quality of acting or the script, the truth is that this film is at least wholesome entertainment for all ages. For some people, that alone will make this film a must-watch.
Facing the Giants is presented on one disc, in 1.85:1 widescreen format. It looks just fine, with a clean transfer, relatively sharp picture and natural colours. Given the basic production values, the film isnï¿½t particularly pretty, but it certainly doesnï¿½t look amateurish.
The menu is static, and scored.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also solid. The film employs a bold, percussive score for the football sequences, and combined with the crashes and grunts it makes for a majestic sound. Thereï¿½s also a soundtrack of popular Christian music, which fills out the front channels nicely.
Audio is also available in nearly every language known to man. Ok, not quite, but there are a ton of options here: Spanish or Portuguese in 5.1, and French or Thai in 2.0. As for subtitles, theyï¿½re available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Thai and Chinese.
Facing the Giants offers up a respectable selection of bonus material. Thereï¿½s an audio commentary, some bloopers, plenty of deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with the U of Georgia Bulldogs Head Coach, a music video and some trailers.
The audio commentary is by director/star Alex Kendrick and his brother and writer Stephen Kendrick. Two things make this track different from most: Alex Kendrick is a church pastor, so thereï¿½s as much sermonizing as there is commentary, and theyï¿½re both relative amateurs in filmmaking. This second point means the pair discusses a bunch of stuff that the pros just take for granted or donï¿½t deem important for a commentary, with the result being that it may actually be more interesting to the average viewer. In any case, itï¿½s worth a listen to hear more about their intent with the message. They even comment on the Internet pornography bit, providing a serious suggestion for everyone to just ï¿½get the Internet out of your house.ï¿½ Maybe itï¿½s just me, but that seems less like resisting temptation than it does promoting a defeatist attitude.
Fumbles, Funnies and Other Fun Stuff is a collection of bloopers, and runs about a dozen minutes. Here we see the cast and crew having good, wholesome fun, which pretty much means that by about the eight-minute mark, youï¿½ll be bored. However, they include some interesting info in the form of on-screen text, generally identifying what these ï¿½actorsï¿½ do in real life. For example? Shannen fields really is a Christian high school football coachï¿½s wife.
As for the deleted scenes, I counted 14 in all, and as director Kendrick explains in his introduction, each was cut for a reason. Most of these scenes are either really awkward or just completely unnecessary to tell the story.
Next up is Behind the Scenes of Facing the Giants. It runs about seven minutes, and features interviews with cast and crew about their mission for the film. Learn how a church group decided to make a movie, and how hundreds of well-intentioned volunteers helped make it happen.
Interview with Mark Right: Head Coach, University of Georgia Bulldogs is short at about four minutes. Right has a bit part in the film, as Coach Taylorï¿½s old coach, in which he utters one of the filmï¿½s cheesiest lines, which goes something like, ï¿½winning the state championship isnï¿½t ï¿½winning the big oneï¿½. You win the big one when you invite Christ into your life.ï¿½ Here Right explains the story behind that line, and shares more about his personal faith.
Then thereï¿½s ï¿½With Youï¿½ A Music Video of the Production. Itï¿½s basically a video montage tribute to the cast and crew set to a Christian pop song, and it runs nearly six minutes. This one probably means a lot to those who gave their time to make this film, but itï¿½s not particularly interesting to me as a viewer.
Finally, we have the filmï¿½s theatrical trailer, which actually reminded me that the movie does have its share or inspiring moments, along with two previews for other Christian productions.
While I have issues with the messages in Facing the Giants, and valid complaints about the overall production values, I have to respect this film as an impressive accomplishment. In fact, I look forward to seeing what this group does next. As for the DVD, itï¿½s certainly better than your average release, so fans (or converts) wonï¿½t be disappointed.
Special Features List
- Audio commentary
- Deleted scenes
- Behind-the-scenes featurette
- Music Video
- Interview with University of Georgia Bulldogs Head Coach