Sunday, December 21, 2014

Last Ounce of Courage

I guess it's 'bout time I start reviewing some Christmas flicks around here. Let's do this...

Directed by Darrel Campbell and Kevin McAfee.
2012. Rated PG, 101 minutes.
Marshall R. Teague
Jennifer O’Neill
Hunter Gomez
Jenna Boyd
Nikki Novak
Rusty Joiner
Austin Marks
Lindsey Brinnon
Bill O’Reilly

Tom Revere (Marks) is a good All-American boy who enlists in the service and goes off to war. News that he’s been killed in combat devastates both his young wife Kari (Novak) and his father Mayor (Teague). He’s called Mayor because he is the town mayor…and the pharmacist. We eventually find out his actual name is Bob. The grief-stricken Kari decides to move away from their small town to help her get a fresh start. Of course, Mayor disagrees with her plan of action as it also takes away his newborn grandson. Fast-forward fourteen years. Kari shows up on Mayor’s doorstep ready to move back in with her in-laws. Mayor bristles a bit, but his wife Dottie (O’Neill) welcomes her and their grandson, the obviously named Christian (Gomez) with open arms. Shortly after enrolling in school, Christian finds out that any religious connotations are frowned upon in regards to the upcoming holiday. This is true not just in school, but around town and even the nation. Since this rubs Mayor the wrong way, he goes on a mission to put the Christ back in Christmas.

Last Ounce of Courage plays on the notion there is an all-out institutionalized attack on Christianity in this country. It doesn’t do this subtly, either. Right from the start it takes the stance that Christians are merely doing the just and patriotic thing by openly expressing their love for Christ and are being persecuted for it. That last part is a hard sell. If you agree then you’re part of the choir this movie is preaching to and are likely to enjoy it very much. If you don’t, you may spend a lot of time turning the other cheek. There really is no middle ground, here. Those who don’t share the movie’s sentiments are vilified and seen as a threat to the nation. This makes the whole thing feel like an exercise in ultra-conservative flag waving and bible thumping.

However, the biggest problem with this movie is hardly its message. I have no problem with a film that wants to promote Christianity. The bigger issue is that this is just not compelling cinema. It’s predictable and heavy-handed film-making. By playing up the Christmas angle, Last Ounce goes for the low hanging fruit and never challenges either itself or its audience. It’s a classic case of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ On top of that, there are so many places where the movie just flat doesn’t make any sense. As an example, the movie repeatedly laments that phrases such as Merry Christmas are often replaced with Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings. It supposes we aren’t even allowed to utter the word Christmas and ignores the fact that this time of year is filled with multiple holidays including those celebrated by people of other religions. It also ignores the fact that every year many places around the country, including the White House, still put up Christmas trees and call them by that name. At another point, there is a big stink made about everyone questioning whether Mayor is a war hero as if it’s something he made up when it’s known that he won a Congressional Medal of Honor. It comes off as a false way to try and generate drama. I won’t even go into how misplaced the applause for Christian is after publicly showing a video that would mortify any normal audience and possibly scar his own mother for the rest of her days.

Most disappointing about this movie’s lack of artistic ambition and execution is there are some potentially fascinating stories that are not explored whatsoever. For instance, a better film could be made focusing on Kari’s return. The dynamics of her relationship with her in-laws appears to be much more complex than what we’re shown. It could easily be played to examine the various stages of her faith so that is remains a Christian movie. How about dealing with her feelings, as well as those around her, when her late husband’s best friend comes sniffing around her? Instead, she’s relegated to the sidelines until Mayor needs to make a big emotional speech to address the former and Dottie tells her to go for it to take care of the latter. Even more egregiously left out is Mayor’s actual daughter. Early on, we learn she’s been estranged from the family for quite some time. We see her face once or twice without even knowing who she is until that magical moment when everything changes for her. Sure, that change can, and probably should, take place, but it would have been awfully nice to have some meat on that bone.

All of this leads back to something I am quite fond of saying in regards to any form of art: show, don’t tell. Showing makes the audience work a little for the answers, but that work makes it a far more rewarding experience. Also in making the effort to show, the artist will likely develop a deeper and more resonant piece of work than they even intended. Everyone wins. By telling, the work is limited to whatever it appears to be on the surface, thus not penetrating any further than that in the viewer. Even if delivering the most profound message in the universe, just telling it almost always means it will evaporate quicker than a drop of alcohol under a heat lamp. Last Ounce simply tells and tells and tells and wastes just about every opportunity to show.


  1. I've never heard of this movie, and now I'm glad I haven't until now because it seems like yet another religious propaganda film. We seem to have been getting a lot of those recently, films that involve a "good" Christian hero who is seen as a victim of persecution by the evil atheists when they're the ones who are trying to force their beliefs everywhere and deny people their basic human rights.

    1. It's definitely religious propaganda, recommended to me by someone who said I "should see it." That person will be getting a lump of coal from me this year.