Saturday, October 1, 2011

FIREPROOF - Lousy start, strong finish

122 min; 2008
Rating: 6 out of 10

This is powerful, funny (did I mention powerful?) movie that gets off to a lousy start film critic Warren Cole Smith was so overwrought by the first twenty minutes – the “bad acting…bad dialogue… and bad directing” – that he left.

Don’t read too much into that though; Smith knows a bit about drama, and isn’t above indulging in some. It’s true Fireproof won’t win any Oscars, but if Smith had stuck around just a bit longer he would have seen the acting, dialogue, and even the directing take a dramatic turn for the better.

Love dare

Fireproof is produced and directed by brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, and, like their earlier film Facing the Giants, it has an overtly Christian message. The focus this time is on marriage, and specifically the disintegrating marriage of Caleb Holt (played by Kirk Cameron) and his wife Catherine (Erin Bethea). Holt is a well-respected firefighter who doesn’t understand the lack of respect he gets at home. Catherine is a publicist at the local hospital who sees little reason to respect a husband who spends time on the unsavory side of the Internet. So she turns to her friends and coworkers for sympathy, and starts spending extra time with a young doctor who is always available to talk. When the topic of divorce comes up it’s the first time in a long time that Catherine and Caleb can agree about something – they both want out.

Fortunately Caleb’s father isn’t as ready to give up – he challenges his son to try saving his marriage and gives Caleb a book called The Love Dare. The book is filled with forty tasks, one to be done each day for the next forty days.

The first few tasks seem simple, but present challenges to a husband who isn’t used to showing affection, and to a wife who isn’t used to receiving it. So when, on Day 2, Caleb has to do an “unexpected act of kindness” for his wife, the best he can think of is making her a cup of coffee… which she leaves behind on the counter.

Two weeks later the tasks become more difficult: Love Dare #16 asks Caleb to pray for his wife. Up until this moment Caleb has had no time for God, but as his father tells him, Caleb cannot truly love unless he know the God who is love, the God who expressed His love to us by dying for our sins.

Strengths and superficialities

It’s here that the movie’s theology comes to the fore, highlighting both strengths and superficialities. Like most Christian movies, Fireproof has a “conversion moment,” but the Kendricks take it much further. In other films the principal character’s conversion concludes the movie (and viewers are left with the impressions that life will proceed on in a happily-ever-after fashion) but in Fireproof Caleb’s conversion takes place about halfway through the film and drives the rest of the action. Here, as in real life, conversion is just the beginning of something – a life with God that while wonderful isn’t necessarily easy. However, it’s in this same scene that Fireproof reveals a rather man-centered theology: Caleb’s motivation for turning to God seems to be based more on seeking help for his marriage than seeking reconciliation with his Holy Creator. Caleb’s marriage occupies the top spot in his priorities, the spot that should belong to God.


The final word? This is a film any couple would enjoy and benefit from. Fireproof may start slow, but it ends strong and earns a solid three stars out of five for enjoyment. It should probably get the same rating for its theology – weak on the Christian basics, but its message on marriage is right on the mark: “never leave your partner behind.”

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