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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Facing the Giants
Facing the Giants
Sony Pictures // PG // January 30, 2007
List Price: $26.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 20, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
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A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The movie

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 his team.

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 ten-foot pole?

Faith.

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.

The DVD

Video

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.

Audio

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.

Extras

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.

Final thoughts

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.

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