Instead of pitting When the Game Stands Tall against Remember the Titans and Friday Night Lights, it might be better to rate the movie as a high school football prospect.
Football players are judged on size, speed, strength, athletic ability and character. For the purpose of this review, let’s break down When the Game Stands Tall by its cinema strengths: Script, characters, plot, theme and music.
Let’s break down the rest of the movie using a five-star system of rating.
Script: Every sports movie has memorable lines, sometimes corny, sometimes prophetic, sometimes transcendent. One of the best lines from Jerry Maguire is, “Show me the money!” “Bull Durham” has Crash Davis’ rant about what he believes in, culminating with long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.
One of the more memorable lines from When the Game Stands Tall is “Today, I am lost.” It doesn’t have the same energy as “Show me the money!” But the “lost” line is important. It sets the tone for the entire movie and ties in Biblical references to the modern culture of high school football. It’s a good line, but not a great line.
Rating: 3 stars.
Characters: Football players are generally likeable. One of the things this movie does well is make the players believable. They are definitely not flat, but none of them really grow either, save one.
Alexander Ludwig, who plays running back Chris Ryan, explores a spectrum of emotions, from celebrated star athlete to emotionally drained teenager, in his role. The payoff for his performance is worth the wait until the end of the movie.
The coaches are fairly predictable. Jim Caviezel gives a steady, if not tempered, portrayal of head coach Bob Ladouceur. Michae Chiklis plays a spirited assistant coach Terry Eidson.
One of the parents is picked directly out of Friday Night Lights. The coach’s wife, Bev Ladouceur, played by Laura Dern, has all the concerns and anxiety a coach’s wife are expected to have.
Overall, the cast of characters did not overwhelm, but they didn’t disappoint either.
Rating: 2 stars.
Plot: The story centers around the 151-game winning streak of the Concord De La Salle football team. A series of tragedies unfold as the team tries to continue its winning streak. The team loses, and this is the worst tragedy of all.
The movie really slows down at this point. Too much drama, not enough football. This is also the part of the movie that will appeal to women viewers, at least it appealed to some of the women in the theater at the preview.
The plot of When the Game Stands Tall went deeper than a wide out on a fly pattern, but it took a long time to develop the plot lines.
Rating: 3 stars.
Theme: There are a couple routes to take here. The movie is definitely about the evils of pride and the perils of humility. But the root of this movie is loss. Plenty of characters lose something important. The players on the football team, the entire community of De La Salle, experience the loss of the streak. The only problem is equating losing a football game to losing a friend, a coach, a mother. The analogy is a bit out of whack.
On a thematic level, When the Game Stands Tall is about three players deep. But if loss was a starter on the football team, he wouldn’t be that strong.
Rating: 4 stars.
Music: This was the best part of the movie. It had a mix of gospel and gangsta rap, hymns and hip-hop. Not only was the music an eclectic mix, it was a collision of cultures that fit the movie.
As Coach Ladouceur battled with an emerging culture of selfishness and self-promotion against his beliefs in teamwork and unity, the music illustrated the same conflict. The self-absorbed rap music of the early years of the twenty-first century collides with the American suburban village culture of the twentieth century.
The results on the surface would suggest a conflict of ideals. But the result is a rhythmic blend of parallel philosophies.
Rating: 5 stars.
Overall: When the Game Stands Tall had its moments. The story took a while to develop. The messages were complex and some of the dialogue was cliché. But the end of the movie made the slow ascent to the climax worthwhile. Coach Ladouceur said he was lost at one point in the movie. He was a shepherd who lost his way. But in the end, he was found and a better man for it.
Overall rating: 3.4 stars.
PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking.
* Tim attended a screening for editorial purposes.