“Facing the Giants” (PG) – A Review

I don’t like football. Which is why I wasn’t really looking forward to watching the movie Facing the Giants (rated PG), written and directed by Alex Kendrick, who also plays the leading role in the film. The general plot is described as “a losing coach with an underdog football team faces [his] giants of fear and failure on and off the field to surprising results” (imdb.com). The story focuses on coach Grant Taylor (Kendrick) who is having trouble at home and on the job: his house is falling apart, along with his aging car that not only looks bad, but won’t start half the time; his wife, Brook (played by Shannen Fields), can’t conceive a child after four years of trying, and guess what, it’s Coach Taylor’s “fault”; and his football team is losing game after game after game, much to Shiloh Christian Academy’s chagrin, leading the players’ fathers to meet secretly to push for his early retirement. Coach Taylor’s life is going down the tubes fast.

Created by Sherwood Baptist Church and produced by their own production company, Provident Films, Facing The Giants is as low budget as it gets. The actors were all volunteers from their church congregation, as were the members of the filming and production crew, so the film, though fairly polished and quite impressive considering its humble roots, was not without it’s technical problems. The acting was mediocre, and the plot rather predictable, having a sort of “after school special” aura about it. But none of that concerned me a whole lot because I knew going in that this was not a professionally done Hollywood production. I’ve worked on movie and stage sets, so I understand how difficult it is to pull off a production with any amount of success, even for the masters, much less the low-budget wonders.

But I gave the movie a chance, and 1 hour and 52 minutes later I found myself pleasantly surprised that Facing The Giants wasn’t so much about football as it was about the human condition and what happens when God is in the midst of it. The music score (also credited to Alex Kendrick) was top notch, sweeping, almost epic, and the soundtrack was full of uplifting songs by contemporary Christian rock group, Mercy Me. I also greatly enjoyed the witty banter of the two sidekick assistant coaches who provided comic relief throughout the film, as well as the inspiring allusion made to the Biblical story of David and Goliath: the youngest, smallest boy on the football team, David, beat the opposing team, appropriately named The Giants, in the final game with one mighty field goal kick.

But more than that, by the end of the movie (Warning: Spoiler Alert), Coach Taylor had given his life to God with fabulous results: the football team started winning every game, resulting not only in taking them all the way to the State Championship but also resulting in enough of a pay raise for Coach Taylor and his wife to fix up their deteriorating house; he was miraculously given a shiny new red pick-up by an unexpectedly happy and downright respectful parent to replace his junker of a car; and if that wasn’t enough, Wife Brook was happily pregnant at last. 

If you’re looking for The Feel Good Movie of the Year, this is it.

And that’s perhaps my biggest problem with the film. Why? I’m glad you asked.

Coach Taylor obviously had an inner problem at the beginning of the film. He was professing to be a Christian, working in a Christian-esque environment, but he didn’t behave like one. He was negative and pessimistic, and his focus was on winning, not Christ. It took the vibrant positive nature of his wife, along with humble prayer and a sense of brokenness on his part, to realize God was and is in control. That part of the film truly resonated with me because I, like all of us, struggle with ego and the false belief that I can work this thing called “life” on my own. Coach Taylor’s personal failures had to knock him down before he realized he was getting in God’s way.

But what bothered me most about this movie was the shallow theology behind the plot. Feel Good Movie of the Year, yes indeed, but life just isn’t always Feel Good, even with God in it. I felt the folks at Sherwood Baptist Church paid homage to the reality of life by showing us a man who had been kicked down, but ultimately what they demonstrated to their viewing public was that God is only as good as we give. For Coach Taylor, all that was needed to make his life that perfect land of Oz, blooming with promise and the hope of an even more perfect tomorrow, was to submit to God’s will, and when he did, he received abundant goodness the likes of which the rest of us only dream of.

So, though I walked away from the movie with a sense of God’s awesome power, realistically, I felt the movie delivered the false promise that if we tow the line with God, He’ll pull through for us, a saccharine “give so I can take” type of theology that, from my own personal walk with Christ, I just don’t see as truthful or practical. God isn’t the Giant Sugar Daddy in the sky, and even people with amazing faith, land in the ditch — and oftentimes, due to bad weather or just plain lousy circumstances… they stay there. Yes, Facing the Giants gave me a sense of God’s awesome power and what he can do with even the humblest of beginnings — this film in and of itself is a testament of that; just look at what Sherwood Baptist Church created through Christ when they pulled together and made this movie, releasing it into the wild through a grassroots movement and taking Hollywood by storm. However, I can’t say the message was delivered with realism, and call me crazy, but I need to know that God is a God of the messy stuff, and just because my life’s not perfect, no matter how hard I try, doesn’t mean He’s not moving mountains in places that I just can’t see.

So, my advice is to see the movie, and get a dose of positive, feel good vibes. It just might lift you up in a way that will keep you going, despite your circumstances. But know that God is still there, even — most especially! — on those days that you just can’t muster a smile. He is there facing your giants, even if you can’t see Him working in remarkable, feel good ways.