Overview: A decorated high school football program faces a period of adversity. 2014; TriStar Pictures; Rated PG; 115 Minutes.
The Power of Sports: The natural drama that sports can provide is as good as any fiction. It’s derived from pure heart and determination. It can produce unadulterated, surreal astonishment (Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals), crippling heartbreak (Chris Webber’s errant timeout), and uncontrolled sobbing resulting from inspiration (Jimmy V’s speech). If in the right hands, that natural drama is tailor-made for film, but in the wrong hands, it more closely resembles that cheap suit your grandma bought you that is two sizes too large.
When That Power Falls Short: When the Game Stands Tall is like grandma’s suit. The true story at the heart of the film is one of real life perseverance, overcoming tragedy, and togetherness. The De La Salle football program is amidst a 151 game winning streak; they haven’t lost a game in 12 years. Prior to the new season, their coach becomes ill and a former teammate and friend is murdered. It’s raw, emotional content from real people, but the film takes this real drama, brands it with a manufactured logo, advertises it with religious undertones, and tries to manipulate viewers by telling us how we ought to view the struggle.
Due to the heavy-handed tone, I spent the first hour of the movie waiting for someone to die. You know it’s coming because of all the “symbolism” and “metaphors” the writers throw at you to telegraph the next step. The movie shouldn’t have to hold the viewer’s hand and show them the way; the drama should be strong enough to stand by itself.
The Players: A good sports movie is built on the character development of the players and coaches involved in the game. I enjoyed Remember the Titans because I grew to care about the players and their struggles. I enjoyed Jerry Maguire because Cuba Gooding Jr. was fantastic as Rod Tidwell. Hell, I even enjoyed Rookie of the Year because that kid was so darn likeable (Rowengibner?).
None of the characters in When the Game Stands Tall is given the proper chance to develop and endear viewers to their trials and tribulations. What’s even worse is that these players are based off of real people, and not building their character in the movie is a disservice to the real person behind that character.
The Lead: Jim Caviezel plays the coach of the De La Salle football program, Bob Ladouceur. As the lead role and centerpiece of the football program, obviously he has a lot to say and do. Caviezel is absolutely awful as “Coach Lad.” His voice never changes tone or register, sounding the same delivering the big game pep talk as he does in everyday conversation. Take it from a former athlete: if the coach is speaking to you before a game like he would at the dinner table with his family on lasagna night, motivation will be hard to come by.
Final Thoughts: I can’t help but feel that this true life sports story would have been better suited as a documentary. The gravity of the most heart-wrenching moment of the movie is lost in manufactured emotion. There are more worthwhile sports movies to spend time with.