THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"LAST OUNCE OF COURAGE"
Last Ounce of Courage is a remarkable film. And I don't mean that in a good way. It opens and closes with quotes from Ronald Reagan that essentially celebrate war, and the movie's clear-cut message is that the rights of decent, God-fearing Americans are under constant attack (i.e. from liberals) and must be defended at all costs. Allow me to say right here that I have no problem with films that contain Christian or conservative themes. I've followed the rise of Christian cinema with great enthusiasm, and have given positive reviews to some of the films in this emerging genre. I also think it's entirely possible to make a smart, entertaining conservative movie that doesn't isolate audience members who would identify themselves as liberal. Last Ounce of Courage, however, is not interested in telling a good story; its goal is to deliver a message. And it does so in a way that struck me as highly objectionable.
Marshall Teague plays Bob Revere, the mayor of a small town and a decorated war veteran. He proudly sends his son off to combat, then is devastated when he dies, leaving a wife and infant behind. Fourteen years later, Bob decides it's time to become a soldier again when he sees Christianity being erased from his community. The cross has been taken down from the facade of a local church because someone found it offensive. His now-adolescent grandson gets in trouble for bringing a Bible to school. The last straw comes when Bob is told that he's not allowed to put Christmas decorations in the town square because it violates the separation of church and state. Everywhere you turn, Bob says, people are declaring war on Christmas! I'm pretty sure New York City has a rather sizable Christmas display every year, but whatever.
Bob decides that he's not going to let any commie pinkos tell him what to do, so he begins launching a massive campaign to bring religion back to his little town. Fred Williamson plays Warren Hammerschmidt, a rude, perpetually-sneering lawyer for the “American Civil Liberties Association” who arrives with the intention of stopping Bob. That's right, folks – the film's heinous villain who wants to prevent hard-working white people from their Constitutional right to worship the Lord is a black man. And, it should be noted, the only African-American character of any prominence in Last Ounce of Courage. While Bob is clashing with Hammerschmidt, his grandson is helping plot the sabotage of the annual school Christmas pageant. The theater teacher has removed all references to Jesus, so it's now about a trio of aliens following a bright star to find a pot of gold. The teacher, as portrayed here, is obviously intended to be a flamboyant homosexual. In this movie's view, the world would be a better place if it wasn't for all those pesky gays and black folks trying to impose their will on everyone else. If there were only one of these instances of minority demonization, I'd write it off as coincidence; that there are two strikes me as something other than accidental.
I was really put off by the appalling racist and homophobic subtext in Last Ounce of Courage. The themes addressed are objectionable too. Bob believes it's wrong for other people to trample on his rights, yet it's perfectly fine for him to trample on theirs. This is an idea shared by the movie itself. The point is clear: anybody who is Not Us (members of other religions, those who oppose war, those who do not live our lifestyle) is bad. There is a bizarre hypocrisy to the film, which celebrates Bob for fighting for his civil liberties while simultaneously chastising other people for doing the exact same thing. In other words, such behavior is good only when it benefits the “correct” ideology. How can a movie proselytize on the value of Constitutional rights on one hand, then advocate the betrayal of them on the other?
Leaving aside the ideological argument, Last Ounce of Courage is just an example of bad filmmaking. In addition to being didactic, the movie is melodramatic, with a bombastic musical score cuing you how to feel at every given moment. It is shamelessly manipulative, even going so far as to use an image of tragedy to sell a climactic plot point. It doesn't play by its own rules, introducing a touch of magic near the end in order to get itself unpainted from a corner. The performances are uniformly stiff, but then again, even the best actors couldn't sell such ham-handed dialogue. There's even a fair amount of unintentional comedy. Are you ready for this? Last Ounce of Courage ends with a new variation on that creakiest of cinematic cliches, the Slow Clap. The Slow Clap, ladies and gentlemen! In 2012!
Filled with flawed ideas, subtle bigotry, and amateurish technique, Last Ounce of Courage tested my last ounce of patience. The movie takes itself so seriously; its makers really think they are doing something profound here. Sad to say, they aren't. Rather than delving into the subject of civil liberties with intelligence or provocativeness, they take the easy route, opting to simply elicit a Pavlovian response from the like-minded. The film loves America, Jesus, and Christmas. I love all those things too, and yet this story does not represent me or speak to me at all.
(1/2 out of four)
Last Ounce of Courage is rated PG for thematic elements, some war images and brief smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.
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