Directed by: Darrel Campbell and Kevin McAfee
Premise: The mayor of a small town (Marshall R. Teague) decides to put up Christmas decorations on city property in defiance of a big city lawyer (Fred Williamson) who claims that such religious demonstrations violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
What Works: The first thing to understand about Last Ounce of Courage is that it is not intended for general audiences. This film was made by and for a very specific viewership: those who get their information about the world from Fox News and who subscribe to the ideas of Christian nationalism. For viewers who share the same perspective as the filmmakers (and who are able to ignore cinematic shortcomings in favor of the film’s ideological qualities), Last Ounce of Courage will be satisfying entertainment. To its credit, the film does feature some competent performances by its main cast members, including Marshall R. Teague as the small town mayor, Nikki Novak as his daughter-in-law, and Hunter Gomez as his grandson.
What Doesn’t: There are a lot of problems with Last Ounce of Courage. The most obvious are its shoddy production values. It often looks like it was shot with a department store video camera and there are a lot of elements that betray the low budget of the film, like the fact that it takes place in December but there is never any snow despite the inclusion of stock footage of snowfall early in the film. But the biggest flaws of Last Ounce of Courage are tied to the way it handles its political agenda. Last Ounce of Courage is a piece of propaganda. The word “propaganda” often has a negative connotation but it needn’t. A propaganda film is really just a picture in which the moviemakers dramatize a specific point of view; public service messages about “paying it forward” are as much propaganda as presidential campaign ads. The trouble with Last Ounce of Courage is that it is a dramatic motion picture, not a documentary, and the political agenda overtakes the story. In the most effective “message movies” the central point of the film unravels naturally through the plot and the actions of the characters. Master filmmakers lead viewers to a conclusion that will occur to them as an epiphany without deliberately spelling it out but the filmmakers of Last Ounce of Courage hit every beat on the head. Characters constantly speak in dull monologues about freedom and in the climax the lead character gives a redundant and overlong speech that enunciates the message of the movie. This is clumsy storytelling that arises out of a distrust of the audience to figure out the drama. Because the filmmakers of Last Ounce of Courage are so focused on their agenda they forget about the story, thereby weakening their greatest rhetorical asset. Stories are about people and how they cope with challenges but this film is not really interested in its characters; no one is ever characterized and no one changes in a meaningful way between the beginning of the story and the end. This becomes obvious in the climax as the grandson claims he now understands the meaning of Christmas but the filmmakers have utterly failed to lead the character to that point or even demonstrate to the audience what the holiday means. Last Ounce of Courage is ostensibly about America’s tradition of religious freedom but it is really a dramatization of the War on Christmas nonsense. The film’s take on issues like freedom of speech and religion are laughably shallow and its characterization of religious oppression, such as the Bible being banned from a public school, are straw-man arguments that have no basis in reality. The filmmaker’s ideological drumbeats take a nasty turn in the ending as they exploit the wartime deaths of soldiers to elicit a cheap sentimental response from the audience. In that respect, Last Ounce of Courage manages to not only alienate non-Christian viewers but also insult serious religious viewers in the way it trivializes and sentimentalizes their faith.
Bottom Line: Last Ounce of Courage is not a very good film by any measure. It isn’t well produced and its story plays a distant second to a political argument that is so clumsily made that it ought to insult everyone, including its core audience. In fact, the movie plays very much like an early South Park Christmas episode but without any of the irony.
Episode: #406 (September 23, 2012)