Thursday, September 13, 2012

Last Ounce of Courage

Last Ounce of Courage opens this week. I first saw the movie 2 weeks ago via an advance screener. It was with some anticipation that I wanted to see this movie since it was being promoted like crazy on FOX news and on various outlets during the Democratic and Republican Presidential Conventions. I am unapologetically a Christian, although not as ultra-conservative as some, I follow politics, love motorcycles, and watch some FOX programming which is one of the networks the film is being advertised on. I didn’t know what to expect as I love film and am a fairly critical reviewer of film, especially film that does not follow high technical merits. Oh yeah, did I also mention that I love Christmas? In Last Ounce of Courage a father who is a part of a MC (Motorcycle Club) is also the town’s mayor and owner of a local pharmacy. He loses a son in war and realizes the freedoms his son and he when younger, he fought for included the freedom to celebrate Christmas. Freedoms are being taken away by individuals who strongly emphasize the concept of The Separation of Church and State. Anything having to do with religion is being taken away from society; even those who choose to celebrate and honor those freedoms.

One of the things I am critical of in movies is the technical aspects, things like acting, sound track, story or plot lines. While this movie is far from a high dollar budget film there are certain things I was pleased with. While there are no major stars except Fred Williamson who plays the part of Warren Hammerschmidt who seeks to stop the town from celebrating any concept of Christmas. The overall acting is quite good. Williamson resembles an ACLU lawyer and while he has many individuals scared of the potential law suits, Mayor Bob Revere played by Marshall Teague will have none of it. After being challenged by his grandson, Christian Revere played by Hunter Gomez, the son of his son who is killed in battle, to do something now; to stand up for freedom. The mayor decides to take a stand, a stand that comes at a cost. The acting is actually quite good, especially Hunter Gomez who plays the part of a teenage grandson trying to find out what his father stood for. I was also surprised at the excellent sound track, playing and incorporating some good old Vietnam and war themed music. While the film is a iffy in certain aspects, it is clearly not a big budget film that could afford high quality CGI, it has an interesting plot that while certainly leaning to the far right politically, pulls off an entertaining hour and a half.

Last Ounce of Courage starts off with a family sending their newly wed son off to war. The story is revisited some 15 or 16 years later after the son is killed in combat. The son’s wife, Kari played by Nikki Novak is living with her son, father in law, Bob and mother in law, Dottie, played by Jennifer O’Neill. When her son gets into trouble for taking a bible to school the Mayor is challenged by a school janitor and his grandson to stand up for freedom, including the freedom to celebrate Christmas. The story, using footage from Fox’s Bill O’Reilly challenges the public that there is a ‘war on Christmas.’ We see a progression of ideas that are strongly influenced by Christian Nationalistic politics. While the film takes a strong position in this area, it is not overtly preachy and does so in such a way as to challenge the viewer to think, while at the same time, being entertained. It is in the entertainment concepts that I found the movie somewhat surprising. In the development of story, we also see adequate development of character. We see this especially in the characters of the Grandfather and Grandson. Both characters struggle and we see a presentation where the quality of story makes up for the shortfalls of this movie.

One of the issues this film will have if it hasn’t already had is that approximately half of the population who have strong political views on one side or the other, will likely see and consider the film propaganda. While it has issues that I personally struggled with, the mixture of faith and politics this film still finds ways to touch the viewer. The themes of the freedoms our soldiers fight for and our nation represents could have been just as strong, and just as respected without ones faith also having to be wrapped in the flag. I know it likely seems strange to hear me say that, but I personally wish the film had chosen one direction either or the other to focus on. While there are certainly those who fight wars that have a belief in God, there are also those we fight against, who likely share the same beliefs. It isn’t always an “us versus them” mentality that best represents the concepts of faith, especially when many from all nationalities can share a particular faith.

I have to wonder, why is a God, who is a jealous God and clearly states that none should have other Gods before him, is often seen by some in a Nationalistic perspective as a God who is draped in the Red White and Blue of the American Flag. There is nothing wrong with loving country but when a loving God has to be draped in that flag, one has to wonder as I and others I saw the film did, about the role of God in supporting or endorsing war. While war isn’t a primary theme, it is a theme that when mixed with religion, had many I watched the film with wondering about. Now realize that those I watched the film with included about 20 homeless individuals, half of whom were veterans.

While I and the others I saw the film with didn’t like the heavy handed approach of mixing faith and politics, we agreed with much of the premise. For example, regarding the men and women truly fighting for America and her freedoms, does it make sense that those freedoms are being taken away? Is there legitimately a war on religion and as in the case of the movie, on Christmas? As one who has tried to be unbiased on certain political issues, it sure seems that there is indeed, an effort to limit the influence of such holidays as Christmas in the public square. While Last Ounce of Courage does not present a very compelling, deeply thought out argument to the issue, it does present a compelling emotional argument to the issue in a rather simplistic but effective way. It was so compelling that by the end of the movie at least half of the men I was watching the film with, requested Kleenex as the movie makes numerous attempts to pull at the heart strings and yank out the tears. While I appreciate emotional movies, I don’t appreciate the manipulation of emotions. Unfortunately, I felt Last Ounce of Courage in the end, not only pulled at the heart strings; it went so far as to rip them out.

As I spoke to some of the veterans I watched the film with I was also surprised at another emotion that was expressed by several individuals. They ended the experience by expressing that the movie made them angry. Not angry at the war on Christmas or other things, but angry because they felt the military was fighting and engaged in wars now not based on the good of America and its people, but based on the good of politicians and wealthy business people. Without giving the ending away, there is an effective and powerful moment where we realize the horrors of war. We realize that people do in fact die for freedoms, but unfortunately, those freedoms are not always appreciated by the people those soldiers are fighting for.

I was frankly surprised by Last Ounce of Courage, it was better than I expected, and despite its faults it was and is thought provoking. Should ones religious faith be wrapped in the flag? What are our men and women dying for in combat? How does one stand up for their own individual freedoms? What freedoms are others trying to take away from the populace, and why are they trying to take those freedoms away? Are we as individuals taking for granted the freedoms we have? And in the freedoms we have, are we willing to stand up for those freedoms, especially when others are willing to die for those freedoms? All of these concepts are vitally important in our day to day lives. That includes some of the points Last Ounce of Courage makes effectively, it is in our own exercise of individual freedoms that we must also stand up and express ourselves.

I suspect that with the massive ad campaign, Last Ounce of Courage will do better than expected at the box office. While it isn’t a blockbuster film, it will be a film likely to make a profit because there are those this film will speak to, many who agree with it, and many who believe the film is in fact speaking for them. I would hope that not just one side of the political spectrum would see the movie, but all would. The issues addressed are worth discussing and talking about around the coffee table, water fountain, or any other place where civilized discussion still takes place. Unfortunately, I have learned that civilized conversation exists less and less. I just asked a question about a movie last week, and the question was enough to have someone unfriend me at Facebook. Unfortunately that is a part of the battle Last Ounce of Courage faces; for those who believe the message, they will see it, for those who believe it is propaganda, they will condemn it without seeing it. That is sad, especially when there are those dying and hoping for the freedom to among other things, disagree.

While far from a perfect movie, Last Ounce of Courage is better than expected. For entertainment value and the encouragement to think, I would say give it a shot. It is most definitely worth the price of a matinee ticket, and for some, a premium ticket price. For me, for the 7 letters it takes to spell courage, on a scale of 1 – 10, I give Last Ounce of Courage, a respectful 7.

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