Friday, October 16, 2015

Fish Flix: Faith of Our Fathers (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Until recently, I had never heard of It's an web-based store that specializes in Christian themed movies.  Among their titles are Bible stories for adults and children (including the popular Veggie Tales programs), Hallmark presentations such as the series When Calls the Heart, and several mainstream films. Among the theatrical releases in its offerings is Faith of Our Fathers, released in July 2015 and now available on DVD.

"Faith of Our Fathers" begins with a flashback to a grainy 38 mm style montage of a young couple at the start of their lives together; he's young and handsome, she's beaming and heavily pregnant.  The husband appears in a new Army uniform, and the clips transition.   Home video becomes images of mom raising a son alone, and interspersed with Vietnam footage. It culminates in the return of a flag-draped coffin, and a visit to his father's grave.  The film then jumps to 1997 and and adult John Paul George (portrayed by Kevin Downs, and yes, there are countless Beatles references) is sorting through boxes in his recently deceased mother's garage and finds a box labeled "Keep." Encouraged by his fiancee Cynthia (Candace Cameron Bure), he decides he needs to sort through the contents as he determines what from the house stays and what heads to a yard sale.  What he finds are mementos of his father: dogtags, letters, and photographs.  He knows little about his father; before she died, his mother really didn't discuss her lost husband.  In the box is a letter from Eddie Adams, an unknown entity.  Cynthia suggests John Paul try to find him, in the hopes that John Paul will be able to learn about his father from him.  The hunt is on. 

Cue the cliches. 

After numerous false starts, John Paul is down to his last number, which may also be a dead end.   After being hung up on, he heads off to Mississippi, much to the dismay of his wedding-planning fiancee.  Upon arrival, a hostile voice greets him from a dilapidated cabin with shotgun blasts.  He yells that he won't be talking, and John Paul says he'll wait him out...and when night falls, the voice calls him into the house saying, "Supper's on...I'm Wayne, Eddie Adams' son."  The men are as opposite as can be; John Paul is the city boy, eager to discuss the men's fathers so he can get back to California for the wedding, while Wayne is the stereotypical Mississippi redneck who shoots more than he speaks but tries to psychoanalyze John Paul.  After using a chainsaw to remove the roof of a car, Wayne tells John Paul the only way he'll get to see the letters Wayne's father wrote is if he gets paid for them...$500 a pop.  After reading one "freebie", John Paul feels compelled to follow along, and the men are on their way to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.  The two men fight like brothers from the onset.   There's even a (poorly choreographed) fight scene, featuring a play-by-play by a wooden-as-a-duck-decoy Si Robertson as a gas station clerk that leaves the boys running from the cops. At the end, Wayne whines, "I deserve a letter...I feel like I'm being taken advantage of."  Following hitch-hikers that steal their car, a police chase that ends with a trip to jail, and yet another call to a whining Cynthia, I felt like I was being taken advantage of.  I wish I could say all of these propelled the story forward, but all they did was make us roll our eyes.  It felt like the film was just a string of banalities tied together.

Fathers and Sons

Scenes fade between the present road trip and the jungles of Vietnam; as John Paul and Wayne journey to the Wall, the men in Vietnam are on the march to retrieve other fallen soldiers.   Eddie and Stephen are as polar opposites as their sons.  We find out bits and pieces of the soldiers' story as their sons travel together, but many scenes don't seem to be tied to the letters.  Often it seems like one man's action provides a segue into the others' time.  Finally, the stories tie together when the sons have a run-in with a state trooper, who turns out to be their commanding officer Mansfield (portrayed by Stephen Baldwin).  He gives John Paul his father's final letter, and tells them how the men died.   Wayne attempts to give John Paul the last letter in his father's box, and finds it's addressed to him; it's written on a page torn from Stephen's bible and speaks of his acceptance of God and His love, and how great it is to encompass both of them.

The Role of Christianity

From the outset, the Christianity is hard-hitting.  The film pans to a team of soldiers bivouacked in the jungle; at the center is Stephen George and a bible; when the movie flashes back to the present, it's a bible that John Paul is packing to take to Mississippi.  The older boys and I were watching this together (the movie has a MPAA rating of PG-13) and one even commented, "He's got a bag the size of a briefcase for three or four days' travel, and he takes a Bible? Why not save space for underwear? Every hotel room in the country has a Bible in the nightstand!"  I see the director's point including it, but have to admit kiddo had a good point. John Paul sits at the dinner table and asks an already eating Wayne minds if he says grace; when Wayne shrugs, John Paul launches into a somewhat lengthy prayer. 

Along the road, John Paul pulls out his Bible and Wayne questions, "Are you one of those Jesus freaks...trying to convert people?" and John Paul responds, "So do you believe in God?"  Side-by-side but in separate jail cells, Wayne finally reveals his hardened heart follows his mother's death (they were on their way to the Wall when she was killed by a drunk driver) and then rolls over; John Paul starts praying with tears and "I'm so sorry for my behavior, Lord," and the next morning claims everything is going to be ok, saying "I've been praying..."  When fathers find themselves waiting on orders, Eddie reveals his shaky faith and Stephen replies with overwhelming "Jesus forgives, God is eternal," catechism.  Both Mansfield and Wayne have their giant "Aha!" moments of revelation and conversion. 

Final Thoughts

I think the idea of the movie was great.  Regardless of your political opinion of the Vietnam War, there was a human side to every man who found himself crossing the ocean to fight there. However, the mechanics of the movie just didn't sit work me.  Setting it in 1997 didn't make sense, visually.   The lead actors were clearly older than their late 20s (and in real life are in their early/mid 40s).  Additionally, how did John Paul find all those numbers to call so quickly?  1997's internet was not nearly as expansive as today's, but he managed to find eight or ten numbers to call before his fiancee could burn their dinner? The letters sent home from Vietnam were all in blank airmail envelopes - the prop master should have caught that one.  The script was hackneyed, and what actually kept me from wanting to turn it off was seeing if I could guess the next cliche.  Finally, I often struggle with the "Christian" genre of books and films. I think there's a fine line between exemplifying a Christian life and proselytization. I enjoy Christian works that weave faith into the characters core and propels them forward, but I think this movie crossed that line by making the Christian message pointed and overt, rather than just letting it flow through the characters' behaviors.

In addition to "Faith of Our Fathers", the Crew reviewed four other films from Fish Flix. To read their reviews, click the banner below. You can also follow Fish Flix on social media:

YouTube: Review No 2

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