Fireproof, the third film by Sherwood Pictures, opens in theaters on Friday. And unlike Facing the Giants, Sherwood's popular second film that had a high school football theme, Fireproof tackles a heavier subject — a failing marriage.
In fact, the film is being promoted as a tool that churches can use to help couples who are in troubled marriages, and the ministry of Sherwood Church in Albany, Ga., offers counseling materials to pastors.
David Steadman, administrator at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, will be taking about a dozen people to the film's debut at the Citrus Park 20 theater in Tampa. He and his wife, Yvonne, attended a screening of the film in August.
"It was very well made," Steadman said. "It's one of the most top-notch movies I've seen in a long time."
Steadman said he thinks many marriages today are in trouble.
"There are a lot of people that need help in their marriages," he said. "This film will have a long-lasting residual effect in helping them."
The old firefighter's adage, "Never leave your partner behind," is used as the subtitle and theme of the film, which stars Kirk Cameron as fire captain Caleb Holt and Erin Bethea as his wife, Catherine.
As the story unfolds, the audience learns that after seven years of marriage, Caleb is dismayed to find that his firefighting and rescue efforts have made him a hero to his community, but not to his wife.
For her part, Catherine is tired of being ignored and taken for granted. She is hurt by her husband's attention to the Internet. Neither one understands the pressures the other faces, and the sparks start flying.
When Caleb begins displaying his frustration with "in your face" bouts of anger, Catherine decides it's time to call it quits.
Caleb shares the news of his impending divorce with his parents, and his father asks him to give his marriage 40 more days. Reluctantly, out of respect for his father, Caleb agrees. His father sends him a book, The Love Dare, a 40-day experiment that he says helped repair his own marriage.
Caleb's journey of discovering what both he and his marriage need for survival, and Catherine's reaction to the changes she sees in her husband, are the focus of the film.
In an interview with the Times, Bethea, who currently works as an entertainer at Disney World, talked about her role as Catherine and the film's message.
"I'm really looking forward to people seeing the film, and not only enjoying it as a movie, but also taking some of the practical life applications and putting them to use," Bethea said. "There is a lot in the film that I believe our culture needs to hear."
Bethea said some of the scenes in the movie were challenging for her as an actor.
"There are some really emotional moments toward the end of the film," she said. "Those were definitely the most difficult, but also really rewarding."
Her own faith, Bethea said, helped her prepare to play the part of Catherine.
"It was difficult to prepare to play a woman in a failing marriage when I have never been married myself and grew up in a home where my parents had such a good marriage," she said.
Jeff Dye, minister of students at Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill, attended a screening of the film in Gainesville.
"The actors worked hard to play their respective roles and attempted to capture the genuine emotion behind the story line," he said. "I was very impressed with the quality of the film."
Dye said he enjoyed the comic relief used in the movie for some lighter moments.
"I personally enjoyed the humor throughout the movie," he said. "I was proud to sit in a movie and laugh and it all be clean and respectful."
Dye said he would recommend the film to those college age or older, and possibly high school students.
"The message was powerful and direct," he said. "I would strongly recommend it to couples who are struggling to love each other the way they once did or who are considering divorce," he said. "I also think it will be a great encouragement to couples who are doing fine. It has the potential to help guide you to staying together and working through difficult times."
Bethea shared her own hopes for people who see Fireproof.
"I hope they are challenged to improve the relationships in their lives," she said. "The film centers on marriage, but it's really applicable to any relationship. I believe everyone will leave the theater with a challenge, but they'll also leave with hope."