Friday, August 08, 2014

“When The Game Stands Tall”– Movie Review



This week, The New York Times Film Club held a screening of the new sports drama “When The Game Stands Tall”, starring Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis and Laura Dern. 


When a popular high school football coach suffers a heart attack, will he be able to return to coaching even after his team’s legendary winning streak has been broken?


Bob Ladouceur (Caviezel) is riding the wave of success – he coaches the De La Salle High School Spartans football team, which has an unheard of 151-game winning streak over the course of more than a decade.  Despite this, though, he is not without challenges in his life.  His loving wife Bev (Dern) brings to his attention the fact that their oldest son, who plays football on the same high school team, is experiencing Bob more as a coach than as a father.  Add to that the sudden death of one of the team’s more promising players and Bob’s got plenty of worries. 

Just when things look like they can’t get any worse, they do – Bob is stricken with a heart attack and has to be hospitalized for a while.  During his recuperation process, Bob will be unable to coach his football team, so his assistant coach Terry (Chiklis) is forced to take over in the meantime.  At the start of the next season, the team suffers a major upset and their extraordinary winning streak is snapped when they lose to a lesser team.  After dropping their subsequent game and falling to a record of 0-2 at the beginning of the season, everyone is getting concerned. 

With pressure mounting from within the community and from the parents of some of the players, Bob decides it’s time for him to step up and return to his coaching position in a more hands-on manner.  Although he observes the players working hard during their daily practice, he believes their strong effort there is not being carried over onto the field come game-time.  When the importance of their next game is enhanced due to the fact that it will be against a team in their own division, will they be able to pull off a victory to salvage something or will they be relegated to their first losing season in many years? 




With a story about how a high school football coach recovering from a physical setback having to teach his players how to recover from emotional and competitive setbacks, you would think that a greatly human, touching tale of the value of sports – and perhaps more importantly – the value of a good teacher would be compelling enough to resonate with audiences.  Instead, we have been presented with a film from a screenplay that is without any semblance of humor, containing one predictable cliché-filled scene after another.  While I certainly don’t want to seem like the big city snob looking condescendingly at small town life, I have to believe that the way in which “When The Game Stands Tall” is laid out, it is more proselytizing than storytelling. 

“When The Game Stands Tall” is nothing more than a missed opportunity – and it is missed by a long way.  It is a drama that takes itself way too seriously and as a result, fails to see how it winds up being unintentionally funny.  Laura Dern’s character is somewhat contradictory; in an early scene, she is heard criticizing her husband for not considering a better job as a college football coach, then shortly thereafter, she’s complaining that he isn’t spending enough time with the family.  Caviezel’s character is apparently also a theology teacher, inculcating his boys with Christian religious beliefs just as much as football techniques; of course, anyone in this fable that appears to be something of a heathen is therefore evil. 

In watching this movie, one can get the distinct impression that the filmmakers may have never even seen a football game, much less played in one, even at the level of a pick-up game with the family at Thanksgiving.  For one thing, the sports announcers calling the game are heard declaring the score as “seven-to-zero” instead of something like “seven-to-nothing” or even “seven-nothing”.  Another example would be some of the scenes from the games themselves; although we are led to believe that De La Salle’s defense is quite good, we never see anyone from their secondary picking-off a pass.  It would seem that high school quarterbacks are better than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. 


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