Sometimes I’m too lazy for a full-out piece. Sometimes everything I’ve got to say about a film can be summarized in a sentence or two. Sometimes it’s both. So herewith, a quick-n-dirty on the high school football film When The Game Stands Tall!
Nutshell: Gotta give The When Game Stands Tall a C-. Director Thomas Carter (Coach Carter) is a man that does fantastic work with football game scenes. But the first half of the film is choppy and confusing. In trying to pay homage to the truth, this film gets bogged down by all the details that are desperately shoehorned in, with little exposition to help it all fit. Top-notch action and pacing at the end can’t fully compensate for a film that doesn’t understand itself ’til the last quarter.
Before: Go sportsball! As much as I enjoy (wearing my team colors and drinking beer with friends) watching sports from time to time, I often take a pass on sports-themed films. But this is based on a true story, and it’s gotta be better than Draft Day, right? I’m getting a full-on Friday Night Lights wannabe vibe on this one. Let’s go! *clap*
During: Where have I seen this Ryan character before? Oh yeah — he’s Cato in Hunger Games! [and he’s in Vikings; that’d be Alexander Ludwig]. Whatever, he’s great as a kid trying to find himself and deal with a stage-door (locker-room-door?) dad that’s too into the record books to be into his kid. [That’d be Clancy Brown. The Kurgan! There can be only one, MacLeod!] But damn there’s a whole lot of WTF in this film. Which makes me feel like a douche, because said WTF deals with a players parents dying, a kid getting shot, and all sorts of downer stuff that happens in Real Life™. But all this serves to derail the story. Whose story are we telling? Everyone’s? How long is this film? I’m so confused. Perhaps this is a Christian Film hidden underneath all the sportsball bluster. There’s a whole lotta Him around here. Not that the J-Dog ain’t a good thing. But it’s much more than even a film set in a Christian school “needs” to have to serve the storyline. Hey, if it’s in that genre this film would get an A, compared to a lot of the so-so stuff pawned off onto that audience.
After: I’m betting a whole lot of folks will forgive the first half/three-quarters of the film thanks to the absolutely kickass way the director can shoot anything having to do with football. Training? You can almost smell the testosterone, and feel the burn. Games? Heart’ll be in your throat, and the action in your face. The final quarter, with the De La Salle team playing The Game? Da-yam y’all, that was heart-in-throat time even for me. And it was fun to see Laura Dern play a normal gal who just wants to spend more time with her coach hubby, rather than a gal screaming at dinosaurs or being a one-woman emotional wrecking ball. And it’s good to see The Shield‘s Michael Chiklis play a football coach, rather than a cop with antisocial personality disorder. With Dern and Chiklis, it’s fun to watch ‘em froth. But they’re damn good actors, so it’s nice to watch them take a “normal person” role and deliver great performances. Pity the story is so muddled that nobody will really notice. Wanna see kids tear up the gridiron? This’ll do ya. More than that? Re-watch Friday Night Lights.