Monday, September 1, 2014

When the Game Stands Tall Review

If you know me well enough, you'll know that I am a huge sports fan. I even used to devote half my blog to sports posts before making the decision to devote most of my time on this blog to movies. Based on this, you may conclude that I would just eat up any sports movie made, but this isn't the case. I can actually be fairly picky with my sports movies. First off, is the event portrayed worthy of being turned into a movie? If so, does the movie stay true to the inspiring events it's portraying without Hollywood-izing it too much? These two things are actually a big problem in sports movies and it bothers me. And of course, you have to have all your technical aspects done right -- acting, story, script, etc. Despite being ripped apart by most other critics, When the Game Stands Tall actually passes my tests for the most part. The longest winning-streak in football history is definitely worthy of a movie and it's true enough to the actual story to not bother me. My problems with the movie have more to do with the technical aspect of things. And that weighs it down enough that this won't come close to being considered one of the great sports movies. But it's decent enough.

Bob Ladouceur should definitely be considered one of the greatest coaches in history. He became the head coach of the De La Salle High School in 1979 and coached all the way until 2012. His record as head coach was an unbelievable 399-25-3. During his tenure, there was a period of 12 years from 1992 to 2004 where the school went completely undefeated. Naturally, when you have that impressive of a win streak, winning becomes expected and thus the fans and players become really spoiled. After becoming this spoiled, you could just imagine what would happen when the team finally lost. Everyone around would become completely devastated. How do you pick yourself back up? Based on the movie's marketing, this is what I thought this movie was going to dive into and thus I was excited because it seemed like a premise that was super intriguing and would definitely make a great movie.

The biggest problem is that the movie actually has a much different focus than what the marketing made me believe. I thought the winning streak was going to get broken towards the beginning of the movie and we would spend most of the movie watching this team and this community try to recover. That would've been interesting to watch. However, the movie focused a ton on the events that led up to the streak ending. In fact, I don't know the specific timing, but it felt like the streak didn't end until at least halfway through the movie, maybe later. And that whole introduction was drawn out way too long to the point where I was bored. Also, there were a lot of emotional scenes in that first half that completely missed the mark. I think I was supposed to be emotionally affected, but I really wasn't. I think part of that reason was that all these emotional scenes were advertised heavily in every single trailer. Except it was backwards. Trailer shows the streak ending and then shows all the emotional scenes. Poor advertising. In fact, the streak almost felt like a spoiler. Not quite, but almost.

So after the boring first half, we finally get to the point where the streak ends and that's where this movie starts to pick up. You could argue that it is loaded with all sorts of sports clichés, and I will agree with that to a point. I mean, there's not a whole lot you can do with a sports movie that hasn't already been done, so you definitely know what's going to happen. But as long as the execution and the chemistry is done well, I can overlook some clichés. Earlier this year, the movie Million Dollar Arm was panned for similar reasons, but I enjoyed. Same with the second half of this movie. There's a lot of great character progression on this team. They start as these cocky players that just expect to win every single game and when they don't, they hit the harsh brick wall that is reality. Slowly they learn to actually grow up and bond together as a team. At the end, they've learned that there is a lot more to life than just football and because of this, they are finally able to enjoy the success that previous teams from this high school did.

There comes a point in the last half of the movie that I thought was a bit odd. In every football movie there comes a point where the movie follows a certain game in depth. Most of the time this is the finale of the movie and everything else that happens is just to wrap things up. This happens towards the end of this movie and that's where I think the movie is going to end. But it kept going. It was a fake ending that threw me off. I was initially going to criticize this, but the actual final story line that the movie followed in my opinion was the most interesting one. In the movie, there is the star running back who is close to breaking the school's all time rushing touchdown record. While he does want the record, his dad wants him to get the record more and this leads to some very emotional drama. Alexander Ludwig, Cato from The Hunger Games, plays this running back and he does a fantastic job in the movie. Also, Coach Bob Ladoucer is played by Jim Caviezel, Jesus from The Passion of the Christ. He also does a great job in this.

So in the end, When the Game Stands Tall had the potential to be a really good movie. The initial premise of the movie sounded really interesting and when they actually got to that premise in the last half of the movie, the movie was actually really enjoyable, even though you definitely knew what was going to happen. The problem was I can't just forget that the first half of the movie happened. Had the movie been polished up a bit, it could've been great, but alas it comes nowhere near the classic sports movies like Remember the Titans. But that said, if you're looking for a movie to see and you've already seen all the big blockbusters from this Summer, you could do a lot worse. I give When the Game Stands Tall a 7.5/10.

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