When The Game Stands Tall (Sony Pictures)
Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking.
Starring Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig, Michael Chiklis, Laura Dern, Clancy Brown, Ser'Darius Blain, Stephan James, Matthew Daddario, Joe Massingill, Jessie Usher, Matthew Frias, LaJessie Smith, Richard Kohnke, Chase Boltin, Gavin Casalegno.
Written by Scott Marshall Smith and David Zelon, based on the book by Neil Hayes.
Directed by Thomas Carter.
Football movies are problematic. Most real football games end with a quarterback taking a knee as time expires. That’s not exactly great theater, which is required of most movies. When The Game Stands Tall, a story “inspired” by real events hits theaters the same weekend football returns to the playing field. I’m always troubled by the “inspired by” disclaimer on any film (which usually translates to “we made up most of this stuff”). I suppose the mark of an exciting football movie is the degree to which it avoids the mundane action on the field. Does WTGST stand up to the test?
Jim Caviezel stars as the real-life Bob Ladouceur, the long-time head coach of De La Salle High School’s football team, which won a record 151 games in a row between 1992 and 2004. The story picks up at the end of the winning streak as Ladouceur’s team finishes the 2003 season as the juniors prepare to keep the streak alive. Ladouceur suffers a heart attack, causing concern for his wife Bev (Laura Dern) his assistant coach Terry (Michael Chiklis) and son Danny (Matthew Laddario), who also happens to be a player on the team.
Anyone who knows how to use Google will know that the De La Salle streak did, in fact, end in 2004 – which causes all kind of conflict within the team and Ladouceur’s family. The death of a just-graduated player on his way to play at Oregon and the coach’s heart attack also enhances the drama, as the team seems on the verge of falling apart. Adding to the tension is the (fictional) father (Clancy Brown) of the team’s (fictional) star player (Alexander Ludwig) who is one of those typical abusive jerk dads who lives vicariously through the sports success of their kids.
As the 2004 season progresses, Ladouceur and the team come together for a finale that is unusual for a sports movie, but inspiring nonetheless.
WTGST is not your typical sports movie, with the clichéd last-second gasp at a championship-winning score seen in slow-motion, followed by an eruption of glee, trophy-hoisting, Gatorade bath, and freeze-frame celebration. The movie gets points for focusing on greater truths like sportsmanship, honor, dependability and character. Despite the “higher road” divergence from the “winning is everything” tendency in most sports movies, WTGST suffers from a disjointed story and lost sense of purpose. Yes, it’s great that young men can gain character from football, but all the character-building moments in the movie are gained in a seemingly unrelated hodgepodge of scenes.
WTGST’s departure from the sports movie “happy ending” does not mean it avoids all sports movie clichés, either. Every tackle is bone-crushing, and every collision ends with one player being thrown to his back. Other clichés include the “let’s sum up the movie’s message in the final huddle,” and the always necessary “announcer monologue” to explain all the action and tension of a game.
WTGST passes the test for being “mostly true” which makes it mostly boring, despite the good messages for kids in sports. It’s also mostly long (almost 2 hours).
I don’t have anything against a movie about coach who teaches good values to kids. It’s just not very compelling cinema, like most football games that end with the QB taking a knee.
One interesting note of local interest: Ladouceur played his freshman season at the University of Utah in 1972, before transferring to San Jose State. Apparently, he did not like the coaching philosophy at Utah in the 1970s. Looks like he chose a better path, and so did Utah (eventually).