I couldn’t make it through Facing the Giants in one sitting. The first 45 minutes were quite enough to satisfy me that it was pretty awful. I did, however, go back the following day and watch the rest of it. That didn’t help.
I freely admit that my problems with the film are partly due to the thematic content. I object to its ham-handed, force-feeding approach to Christianity, and I strongly disagree with its brand of theology. As one of those liberal humanist sorts, I have trouble accepting the concept of an omniscient, omnipotent being who made man for no other reason than to praise His glory. Trained parrots could do the same thing. Others will disagree or tell me that I don’t understand the message of the film (or that I am simply so mired in moral depravity that it’s lost on me).
Yes, much great art has been made throughout the centuries for the express purpose of glorifying the Deity (and before that, for the purpose of glorifying other deities). Names like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Bach, Mendelssohn and Bruckner come readily to mind. They created art that penetrated the hearts and minds of humankind — believer and nonbeliever alike.
Writer-director-star Alex Kendrick is not in this league. His interest is in preaching — and preaching to the converted. For Facing the Giants to have any appeal for persons who do not share Kendrick’s beliefs would indeed be miraculous — not in the least because it’s appallingly bad as anything other than a sermon. By the very logic Kendrick espouses in his film — that you will accomplish great things if God wants you to accomplish great things — one can only conclude that, for whatever reason, God wanted Kendrick to accomplish something that can charitably be called mediocre.
Granted, the film was made for very little money and acted by Kendrick and other nonprofessional members of the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. The results don’t look bad, but the acting redefines the phrase “amateur night in Dixie.” Still, the real problem lies in the ludicrous screenplay. Even Laurence Olivier couldn’t overcome this cumbersome assemblage of bad ideas wrapped in cliches.
Kendrick stars as Grant Taylor, a perpetually humorless high school football coach suffering from anti-charisma who is shocked — shocked — to learn that after six years of turning out losing teams, the school is seriously considering replacing him. (What did he think was likely to happen?) Worse, his house is falling apart, his car is dying and his sperm count is too low to give his wife (Shannen Fields) the children she wants — in short, everything but the bloodhounds nipping at his heels. All is not lost, however, because the strange old guy (Ray Wood) who somewhat improbably wanders the school corridors (do the parents know about this?) blessing lockers comes to him with a message from God about approaching his coaching task along biblical lines.
Fired up by this timely intervention, Taylor maps out a campaign to revive his career, his team and, in fact, the entire school. “This isn’t just a plan for football. It’s a plan for life,” his wife enthuses. And, of course, things start to turn around. The team gets better and the school becomes a hotbed of kids publicly confessing their sins and getting religion. The central message — aside from keeping yourself pure even while surfing the Web — is that it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, so long as you do it to honor God. Fair enough, but the film isn’t about to test that idea, meaning that the characters will be rewarded in every capacity by the film’s ending. The film is mute as to whether the other — also presumably Christian — teams are insufficiently devout to merit the same consideration, nor does it address the curious fact that Taylor’s is the only all-white team in the division.
Kendrick’s direction is on par with the script, with all his speechifying being accompanied by close-ups of cast members looking sincere and nodding. This is truly only for viewers in search of a heavy-handed sermon. Rated PG for thematic elements.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke