Fireproof starts where any great movie about marriage really should: right smack in the middle, when all the wheels are falling off. Instead of veering off into entertainingly dark histrionics (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), ending in redemptive tragedy (The Painted Veil), or addressing social paradigms more than personal problems (Revolutionary Road), writer/director Alex Kendrick [and his brother Stephen, co-writer] opts for a depiction of something more troubling, and more helpful: characters who, like us, are selfish, pre-occupied, resentful, and broken and yet who have, through spiritual means, the ability to really change—to be transformed, as the Scripture says, through the renewing of the mind.
Caleb Holt is a firefighter who proves his heroism day in and day out. On his time off, though, he’s a smugly satisfied “provider” who daydreams of fabulous watercraft… and women who can keep him sexually satisfied. Caleb’s wife Catherine works nine-to-five in the local hospital’s marketing department, and squeezes in hours to help care for her stroke-disabled mother.
The couple’s comfortably-appointed paths don’t cross often, and when they do, they’re cross enough. Their marriage is, like many we know, one whose spark was snuffed out long ago. When Caleb’s fuse gets really short one night, Catherine drops the expected bombshell: she wants out. With more interesting things on his mind, Caleb decides he does, too.
Enter Caleb’s father John, who knows a thing or two about failing marriages—and about how God can help save them. Leveraging his son’s respect, he challenges Caleb to a 40-day Love Dare, a last-ditch commitment to try one more time to win back his wife’s love and respect.
Marital strife on-screen
It’s a daring move to throw the audience right into the thick of marital strife. Conventional wisdom says that we need to learn a thing or two about characters first and grow to like them—otherwise, we might learn to hate one of them, or care very little about what happens to either. It’s a credit to both Kendrick’s script and direction—and to very appealing performances by Kirk Cameron and newcomer Erin Bethea—that both Caleb and Catherine come off as redeemable and appealing, even while they’re lost. Fireproof possesses a rare realism in a genre that usually depends on clichés and a very predictable arc toward mutual attraction. Oddly, very little in Fireproof is predictable or programmatic, even though we know full well where this story must be headed. At times, in spite of ourselves—and perhaps because of ourselves—we feel that this marriage is every bit as precarious as many we have known.
Continuing the vibe of Facing the Giants and Flywheel, Sherwood Pictures has again assembled a film that has a charm and understanding of the human condition that few of its indie-level peers—and virtually none of its Hollywood big brothers—actually achieve. The writer in Alex Kendrick seems to really understand what people (and men in particular) are looking for, and the pastor in him has a sound understanding of what God has to offer in response.
One male vulnerability at the center of Fireproof is what the film calls the “parasite” of pornography. Caleb, like an awful lot of us, has an unhealthy addiction to Internet porn, borne both of his own appetites and a lack of romance with his spouse. As he starts learning to love his wife, however, he sees that a choice must be made—and, somewhat surprisingly but realistically, turning to Jesus doesn’t magically take the temptation away. In my experience, Caleb learns to replace his addiction with healthy appetites far too quickly and with far too few failures—this is a two-hour movie, after all, and not a mini-series—but the solution depicted is at least theologically sound. As Jesus pointed out in Scripture, you can’t toss out your demons and replace them with a void. Something fulfilling must take their place.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that Fireproof isn’t all moving dramatics and sound spiritual lessons—as if that weren’t recommendation enough. The film also offers genuinely gripping action sequences, and trademark Kendrick comic relief that will evoke audible guffaws.
Better yet, that light Kendrick touch infuses all of the special features that have been released with the DVD. Included are the usual making-of documentary and deleted scenes (all of which are, atypically, quite good); but the outtakes and pranks sequences are not to be missed, and the “Fireproof in 60 Seconds” spoof is truly hysterical—as is the psuedo-doc “Wayne on Wayne.”
The “Collector’s Edition” being sold through Christian bookstores also offers a very nice filmmaking video journal from Bethea (which will leave you much more impressed with her performance as Catherine), as well as more from Wayne, Mr. Rudolph, a very nice music video for Casting Crowns’ “Slow Fade” that appears on the film’s soundtrack, and a link to Safe Eyes anti-porn software.
Kudos to Sherwood for valuing marriage, and for tackling the problem of porn in such a direct and positive manner. Those who equally appreciate the latter focus might also want to find a copy of Somebody’s Daughter: A Journey To Freedom From Pornography, a short documentary which includes the testimonies of several pastors and church leaders who have themselves fallen prey to that parasite—and who, with God’s help, have come out the other side. There is indeed hope for the suffering, as my own story affirms.
I’ve got to say, though, that the best surprise of Fireproof is Cameron’s performance as Caleb. It’s far and away the best I’ve seen from a male lead this year, and will likely make you think of the actor in a whole new light.
Fireproof is rated PG for “thematic material and some peril.” I’m actually surprised at that. The intensity of the marital conflict, the action sequences, and the sidelong references to porn would each seem enough to bump this up into PG-13 land. I wouldn’t sit down to watch it with any child less than ten or so. Bambi gave me nightmares, for crying out loud!
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg attended a promotional screening of Fireproof and also screened a promotional copy of the DVD release. Also see Greg’s interview with Kirk Cameron.
Greg Wright is Managing Editor of both Past the Popcorn and Hollywood Jesus. An ordained pastor, Greg is the author of Tolkien In Perspective: Sifting the Gold from the Glitter (2003) and Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings (2004). A widely-known lecturer on Tolkien, Lewis, film, and fantasy, Greg resides in the Seattle area with his precious wife Jenn and their two cats, Grynne and Bearrett.