Do a Shot: when Danny whines to his dad about not coaching
Do a Body Shot: when you see the PG-rated Mickey Ryan yell at his son (cornball)
Shotgun a Beer: when the team rises again vs Long Beach Polley
Down a 32 oz (with a tear): when a football star loses his life.
By: Jake Turner (Two Beers) -
The sports world has its own genre of films, but the best kind is the sub-genre where they step away from the football field and make it about the team and brotherhood. Films like Varsity Blues come to mind. When the Game Stands Tall is the best sports film since Coach Carter.
I should know; I was a member of a championship high school football team in Minnesota. Understanding the brotherhood of a football team at that young age will give you an idea of who you are, and that you are capable of being who you want to be in the world. The message is that it doesn’t matter whether you are a starter or a bench warmer. You will always be a part of it and respect the game.
Respect the game.
One of my favorite books is H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights. I love it because football is only the window draping for the real story and as a sportswriter for the Contra Costa Times, this author of this film’s source, Neil Hayes, follows that path respectfully. The film opens in 2003, when the Spartans of De La Salle, a Northern California high school, holds a 151-game winning streak. However, as they open the 2004 season, things begin to fall apart among the team because of egotism and complacency due to the winning.
Spartans head coach Bob Ladoceur (Jim Caviezel, CBS’ Person of Interest) from the start shows that football is not a game, but a sport that dignifies teamwork and brotherhood within it. We see an inner demon getting the best of him that leads him to not coaching and leaving defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Teddy Eldson (Michael Chiklis, FX’s The Shield) and the team to fend for themselves. Then another tragedy within leads to the first loss and that is when the film’s message becomes the main focus with a dash of faith.
Sometimes you need to take time off being a badass. All right, a football movie!
As you can see, the story grabbed me from the first down. Just like Coach Carter, it has richness in its storytelling and corny but effective dialogue. Ironically, Thomas Carter directed that sports gem as well as this. He keeps the characters and story as the focus, leading to expertly staged football choreography that alone will make you feel like you are in the metal bleachers watching the action. However, the film’s really about coming together as a team again off the field.
The lead performances are excellent and tap into their real-life subjects. Caviezel captures the low-key but inspiring persona of Ladoceur, who is a Christian and it shows when he is teaching his students. As always, Chiklis shows off versatility with some light comic bits and serious drama and never overacts, but the best performance goes to Alexander Ludwig (Lone Survivor) as running back Chris Ryan, not letting his good looks get the best of him but humanizing Ryan with heart and sincerity within the game. The ending alone will prove it.
Unlike the films I spoke of, this film starts off sloppily with its introduction of its characters and personal storytelling. Especially with the whining sub-tale of Ladoceur’s son, Danny (Matthew Daddario), who doesn’t really bring out the emotion but whines even though his father went through a scary situation. He complains about his father not being able to coach him in his senior season. The supporting acting is either thinly sketched or mediocre, feeling more like a glorified TV movie until Carter heads back to the richly told melodramatic real-life story. There should be more depth when you have talent like Laura Dern and Clancy Brown.
COME ON! Give me more than this.
When the Game Stands Tall has excellent inspiration and the right director at work to bring well-choreographed football action as well as balance the lessons off the field. This alone makes up for any slight flaws and makes this a must-see for all people that have played high school athletics and know what it’s like to be a member of the team. I did and today carry that unforgettable year in my heart. This film takes me back to those days… with some tissues handy.