Full disclosure: I saw only the first 20 minutes of Fireproof. If this causes you to dismiss my assessment of the movie as a cinematic disaster, then you can stop reading right now. I will say in my defense, however, that in those 20 minutes I saw enough bad acting, heard enough bad dialogue, was assaulted by enough amateur lighting set-ups, and was distracted by enough bad directing to give me full confidence in my thinking.
I realize, of course, that for many of my evangelical brethren, it takes more than bad acting, bad dialogue, bad directing, etc., to make a bad movie. It also takes bad intentions, and even I admit that the amateur Fireproof team intended to make a good movie.
And because they made a bad movie doesn't make them bad people. Neither does it mean they eventually will not make a good one. Director and writer Alex Kendrick plans to make a film every two years, and he is clearly learning a few things about movie making. Fireproof, which stars one "pro" actor, Kirk Cameron, is much better than his previous effort, Facing The Giants, which was an improvement over his first film, Flywheel. Who knows? Kendrick and his brother Stephen, his co-writer and producer of the first two films, are both young. If they keep making this much progress, perhaps the next movie-or the one after that-will be the one they and those who have stuck by them can be proud of.
Let's be plain: The Kendricks' movies are apprentice efforts, and there's nothing wrong with that-all great artists and craftsmen go through an apprentice stage. But for an apprentice to graduate into true mastery, someone must give him honest feedback, and it appears no one in the evangelical community is willing to do that. Some of the most prominent movie reviewers in the Christian world acknowledged the film's shortcomings but said-inexplicably-that they didn't matter. Among rank-and-file Christians, any criticism of the movie is met with vitriol, such as the hate I was met with on an online discussion group. You would have thought I had nominated Osama bin Laden for the Nobel Peace Prize.
We do the Kendrick brothers no favors when we grant them a "pass" based on good intentions. I learned this lesson as a writer many years ago. I am not the greatest writer in the world, but (I assure you) I am much better than I was last year, and I am much, much better than I was a decade ago. I improved because of tough feedback from teachers, mentors, and-sometimes-critics.
The artist's life, a helpful college professor once told me, is a vocation, a calling. It should be engaged in to tell the truth about the world, and not just to make money or even to propagate a message. It takes discipline, perseverance, and mastery of the tools of that particular art. Most of all it takes an unsentimental view of what you've done and what you're capable of doing. And it takes the courage to hear the truth about your work. Tough feedback is not a discouragement-it is a gift.
If we truly want to encourage the Kendricks, let's say: "Congratulations. Making a movie, even a bad one, is no easy task. This one is an honorable 'next step' in the process, but is it really your best?"
If the Kendrick brothers have any artistic integrity at all, they will not be discouraged by such feedback, and-in the end-they might one day make that great Christian movie we all have longed to see.