The critical importance of committed fatherhood to the well-being of children is the theme of  “Courageous,” the latest little faith-based movie that could from Georgia-based brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick. The film made a strong beginning at hitting home: “Courageous” was Fandango’s weeklong king of advance ticket sales as it opened Friday on more than 1,150 screens. The movie is the fourth increasingly polished offering from the Kendrick brothers’ Sherwood Pictures, makers of  the Christian-themed “Flywheel,” “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof.” In “Courageous,” four sheriff’s deputies and an out-of-work carpenter must walk through personal crises that convince them to up their games as fathers and husbands. In the case of one deputy (Alex Kendrick, also the director and co-writer), the turning point irrevocably rocks his small family. Jen Chaney of The Washington Post writes in her “Celebritology” blog:

These films make a profit because they are made modestly, and speak (as well as market) to an audience that craves what they provide: movies about spiritual subjects that, for the most part, can be seen by audience members of numerous ages. … “Courageous” doesn’t need endorsements from film critics at major media outlets, nor does it need to spend millions of dollars on press tours and ad campaigns. It knows who its audience is and targets those people directly. Which—much as it may pain the movie-critic side of me to say this—is pretty smart.”

The viewer can tell a movie has a larger point to make when gang-initiation rites that foreshadow a climactic, deftly staged gunfight and chase are put into perspective by these lawmen, who cite national stats linking fatherlessness and juvenile arrests—and then wonder to what extent they truly are present in their own homes. For those familiar with it, the work on marriage and family of Robert Rector, Christine Kim and other Heritage experts may come to mind as multiple plot threads on the consequences of absent fathers play out. (And those not sure of the non-biblical data underlying the film will find an excellent starting point.) “Courageous” sounds a clear gospel message that will make some viewers uncomfortable, even snicker. But it also makes a dramatically satisfying case for the need for men of all (or no) faiths to step up and assume responsibility for their actions. Here’s an opportunity to support that call—and perhaps prompt quality films from Hollywood that lift up marriage rather than put it down—by voting at the box office for “Courageous” over opening weekend or the next few days.

Update: “Courageous” surprised Hollywood insiders by scoring the biggest opening of any of the weekend’s new movies. The film, made for $1 million, opened at No. 4 overall and claimed the fifth-best opening weekend of any previous “Christian” film — after “The Passion of the Christ” and the three “Narnia” films.