Let me get one thing straight off
the bat - I'm a reviewer who calls a spade a spade. Whether it's a
big-budget Hollywood star vehicle or a labor-of-love indie, the
question for me is simply "Is it a good movie?" So although
I knew that Facing the Giants had an interesting backstory -
made on a shoestring budget by an Georgia church - it certainly
didn't predispose me in the movie's favor. I just popped it into the
DVD player and said "Let's see!" Well, I saw that this is
one outstanding film.
Facing the Giants introduces
us to the Shiloh Eagles, a high-school football team that's gone six
years without a winning season, and to its coach, Grant Taylor, who's
struggling with crises in his personal life as well as a sense of
crushing failure about the team. Can Grant pull his team - and by
extension himself - out of a slump of apathy and discontent, and dare
to dream of success? The answer would seem to be "no,"
until a visitor gives Grant a message: God opens doors that no man
can shut... and Grant has an open door at Shiloh. What will he do
about it? It's that challenge that sparks Grant to call on God for
inspiration and strength, and to try something very different with
If I had to summarize my praise for
the film in one word, it would be "daring." You might find
that odd. After all, we usually hear that word tossed around for
films that bare a little more skin or show a little more violence
than the current norm... but that sort of thing isn't really daring
at all. Hollywood knows perfectly well that pushing the envelope just
a bit in terms of sex and violence is a safe bet.
But if you think about it, what's
the aspect of the human experience that Hollywood won't touch with a
When was the last time you saw a
film or episode of a TV show in which any of the characters was an
ordinary person who is also a devout Christian? (Note the emphasis on
"ordinary": from their few appearances in the media, you'd
think that all Catholic priests were either 1. exorcists or 2.
pedophiles. Puh-leeze.) When have you seen a character reading the
Bible? Praying? Referencing God as part of making a decision?
Probably very seldom, if ever. And yet, faith is an integral part of
the daily life of many Americans. What kind of weird cultural
disconnect do we have when the media not just ignores it, but
pretends it doesn't exist? It's as weird as if we never saw people
falling in love in the movies (except for the occasional obsessed
lover who stabs somebody.) I think we get this vacuum because
depictions of faith challenge us... and we don't like to be
challenged. It's a lot easier to just label a film like Facing the
Giants as "oh, it's preaching at us" - that lets us toss it
aside without actually thinking about its message. Except that it's
not preaching, anyway: it's doing that rare thing, giving us a clear
and emotionally honest view of what faith can mean in real life.
That's why I'd call Facing the
Giants "daring." I've never seen such a courageous
exploration of how faith works in people's lives. We're not talking
about a one-off scene in which a character offers up a prayer to God
in a crisis; that's about all we see, if we see anything at all, of
faith in mainstream film. No, we're talking about how Grant, his wife
Brooke, and the other characters incorporate their faith into every
aspect of their lives. In particular, I found the scenes of Grant's
struggle with the crises in his life to be particularly moving. Here,
Facing the Giants dares to show us Grant in agonized prayer;
in the struggle to accept God's will in whatever form it takes; and
in heartfelt gratitude. In Grant, we have a character whose faith
illuminates all aspects of his life, from work to home; it's no
one-shot moment. (It's interesting to note that in this film, whose
theme is the work of God in human hearts and lives, no scenes take
place in a church.)
OK, so Facing the Giants is
daring. But is it also a good film? Definitely.
For one thing, it's not just daring.
It takes on a challenging theme, yes, but so do other films... the
question is what it does with that theme. Facing the Giants
goes to the finish line here by fully exploring the material, and
taking it seriously. For instance, when we see Grant struggling at
various points in the film, Facing the Giants doesn't shy away
from showing the honest emotion involved. The result is a very moving
portrayal of Grant's character development. I suspect that some
viewers might see these scenes and criticize the film for being too
emotional or too sentimental, but I really felt that the film is
completely honest, presenting highly emotional content without
pulling on any easy-to-reach strings in the viewers. It may seem a
little over-the-top at first, but (again) only because we're not used
to seeing portrayals of real faith in film. Imagine the same level of
emotion dealing with romantic love, and it'll seem perfectly normal,
even quite restrained. (If you're the kind of person who'd watch
Romeo and Juliet and comment "Hey, why's he so upset? Why
doesn't he just get a new girlfriend?" then you might find
Facing the Giants to be too emotional. But your friends
probably don't like sitting next to you in the theater...)
Plot-wise, Facing the Giants
has the challenge that every sports movie faces: of taking the
typical "rooting for the underdogs" story and making it
fresh. I'd say that it does a solid job here, for a couple of
reasons. One is that the football-game part of the story retains a
certain desirable unpredictability by having both ups and downs
throughout the film; it also stays tightly within the bounds of
realism, not veering over into fairy-tale mode. (As an athlete and
coach myself, I can attest to the fact that people are often capable
of doing a lot more than they think they are. It's also worth
commenting that yes, there does exist such a creature as the coach
who doesn't swear.) Another is that while the saga of the Shiloh
Eagles is the main part of the story, there's also the story of
Grant's family life interwoven into the plot. Even if you think you
know what's going to happen in the football plot thread, there's a
lot of dramatic tension in the other plot threads.
Another reason that Facing the
Giants works well as a film is that the "sports story"
and "faith theme" are not separate elements, but are part
of one well-integrated whole. You know how the coach always manages
to inspire his team? Most of the time that inspiration takes the form
of "Believe in yourself, and nothing is impossible!" But
"believe in yourself" is a typically Hollywoodian mantra in
that it doesn't really mean much of anything. Facing the Giants
doesn't even do lip service to that trite phrase, instead taking on
the bracing "Believe in God, and nothing is impossible."
Exactly how the Shiloh Eagles works through that particular idea is
the core of the movie, and Facing the Giants does an
outstanding job of tackling the complexities of it. What does it
really mean to call on God to help you win a football game? It's a
shining element of the film that it faces up to that question and
incorporates its answer into the film.
Given that Facing the Giants is
an independent film, it's worth taking a little while to talk about
the level of polish that we see here. The short answer is that it's
definitely feature-film quality: it's a testament to the talent of
the filmmakers that they managed to get everything looking exactly as
it should. One of the notes I jotted to myself was that the
filmmakers had really done an amazing job with the cast. Almost
without exception, the acting in the film is solid. How had they
managed to hire that many decent actors and still stay under budget?
Then I found out that the cast was all amateurs: they were real
doctors, teachers, coaches, and students from the filmmakers'
community. That's simply amazing, and a tribute to both the
dedication of the cast to doing their very best work, and to director
Alex Kendrick for bringing out the best in them.
I also made a note that the actor
they'd cast for the role of Grant was a sterling choice - and
essential, since he really carries the emotional weight of the film
on his shoulders. I was stunned to read the credits and realize that
Alex Kendrick, who turns in an utterly convincing, sensitive, and
moving performance as Grant Taylor, is also the director, co-writer,
co-producer, and editor of the film. Let me tell you, it's not
particularly common to find genuinely multi-talented performers, so
I'll just end my review with a hats-off to Mr. Kendrick and a hope
that we'll see more of his films in the near future.
Facing the Giants is
presented in its original aspect ratio of widescreen 1.85:1, and is
anamorphically enhanced. The image is clean, bright, and crisp;
contrast is handled well, and there's a nice level of detail in the
image. The one issue I had was that the colors seemed too bright at
times; while skin tones looked natural, reds and greens tended to be
a bit oversaturated.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack carries the
film quite well, giving a clear, well-balanced audio experience.
Spanish, Portuguese, and French 5.1 tracks are also included, as is a
Thai Dolby 2.0 track. There are options for subtitles in English,
French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, and Chinese.
I was pleased with the selection of
special features for the film. To start with, there's an enjoyable
commentary track with Alex and Stephen Kendrick; they keep up a
dialogue throughout the film, with interesting tid-bits about the
making of the film. "Fumbles, Funnies, and Other Fun Stuff"
is an 11-minute blooper reel with some genuinely funny material; it's
definitely worth watching. The next main special feature is a
14-minute set of deleted scenes, which are prefaced by comments from
Alex Kendrick. Shorter, but also interesting, is a 4-minute interview
with Mark Richt, the head coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs
football team, who has a large cameo in the film. The special
features finish up with a promotional-style "Behind the Scenes"
featurette (7 minutes) and a 6-minute music video of the making of
the film. There's also a trailer and previews for two other films.
I liked it - a lot. Facing the
Giants is an entertaining sports film that tackles a lot more
than the typical "underdog team learns to succeed"
material, with great success. The film's up-front focus on the theme
of faith and how it shapes people's lives is provocative in the best
sense, giving viewers a sensitive and emotionally honest look into
the lives of Christian characters. It's also a genuinely well-made
film, telling a story that's both challenging and moving. Especially
since it's been given a solid treatment on DVD, it's easy to give
Facing the Giants a "highly recommended" rating.