- on Friday, 22 August 2014 15:20
- by Frank Wilkins
When the Game Stands Tall, the “true” story of a California high school football team that ripped a streak of 151 straight victories and 12 State Championships, has a tough struggle to overcome. One much tougher than typically encountered by the sports drama. And as director Thomas Carter (Coach Carter) paints his picture, it becomes increasingly clear he’s not sure how to overcome that struggle.
But not all the blame belongs on Carter. His accomplice in deficiency is screenwriter Scott Marshall Smith whose script is never able to overcome the detriment of not being the typical scratch-and-claw-your-way-to-the-top underdog story. Sure, not every sports drama has to be about the guy at the bottom, but the team at the heart of his story started at the top. When the movie opens, they’ve been dominating California football for more than a decade with commanding double-digit wins, putting Carter and Smith at a serious disadvantage in figuring out to win an audience’s sympathy for a team that’s been rolling in success year after year.
So, when De La Salle’s football team, coached by humble but modestly inspiring Bob Ladouceur (a stoic Jim Caviezel), loses the first two games of its 2006 season, can an audience be inspired to root for a team that’s not really a long shot? Is there inspiration to be mined from the story of a team that hits a few minor bumps on its way back to yet another State Championship? If not, then what’s left to tell?
The answer is nothing. That’s why Carter and Smith place as the object of their story, Coach Ladouceur himself, who – as depicted – might very well be the most boring person in the world. Other than his record-shattering renown at the tiny Catholic high school just outside Oakland, there’s nothing remarkable about the guy. And something tells me the real-life Ladouceur is fine with that. His calm, milquetoast demeanor and the way he’s able to inspire a bunch of mediocre athletes to achieve greatness with low-key speeches about commitment, brotherhood, and overcoming adversity just doesn’t do much for pulling the same inspiration from an audience. As a result, When the Game Stands Tall is a terribly uninteresting movie.
But it’s a slightly different story when the action shifts to the athletes and to the playing field. After graduating a swollen class of talented seniors, many of whom signed intents for major college football programs, Coach Ladouceur finds his new team left with a fractious bunch of incoming seniors who show little concern for teamwork and coming together as a unit - the opposite of everything a Ladouceur-coached team represents. Their star running back Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig) is on the verge of breaking the state rushing record, but his overbearing father (Clancy Brown) encourages him to focus on individual, rather than team, glory. The tragic fate of a senior star wide receiver creates an even wider rift in the team, and Ladouceur’s son - who finally becomes a senior and expects more playing time – is devastated by his father’s heart attack.
On the field, Carter shines with his hard-hitting, gritty sports action that, despite a propensity to feature devastatingly brutal hits that would put even the fittest of NFL athletes in a wheelchair for life, is both tense and exciting. An all-too-brief scene involving an off-season UIL coach’s meeting is the closest we get to a revealing look at character personalities when a De La Salle assistant coach (played by an unrecognizable Michael Chiklis) faces accusations from league rivals of year-after-year cheating to stack the team.
That’s what When the Game Stands Tall needs more of - human personality. Perhaps a behind-the-curtains glance into the coach’s personal life would lend a more credible understanding of what makes the guy tick. We’re thrown hints of phony insight from his low-key speeches that barely rise above a whisper; and a very brief theological classroom discussion lends some stimulating insight as well. But the fact remains, we learned more about the real Coach Bob Ladouceur from his brief 10-second real-life snippet that rolled alongside the film’s ending credits. But even then, he just doesn’t seem all that interesting. And that’s not a knock on the man as much as it is a slam to basing a movie on an uninteresting person.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
Runtime: 115 mins
Director: Thomas Carter
Writer: Scott Marshall Smith
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig, Michael Chiklis
Genre: Sports | Drama
Tagline: When the game stands tall.
Memorable Movie Quote: " We were never just about winning."
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Official Site: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/whenthegamestandstall/
Release Date: August 22, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: The journey of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who took the De La Salle High School Spartans from obscurity to a winning streak that that has never been shattered.
No details available.