MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Sony Pictures
Directed by Thomas Carter. Starring Jim Caviezel. Alexander Ludwig.
I am really not a sports fan, but I have always enjoyed football movies because they can be just about anything: Dealing with racial prejudice (Remember the Titans), believing in yourself (Rudy), and fortitude and faith (Facing the Giants).
When the Game Stands Tall takes a fairly unlikely topic for an inspirational sports film: The California Catholic high school De La Salle Spartans, record holder for the most consecutive wins (151!) in high school football history – and how they will have to struggle with loss in their lives.
Coach Bob Ladouceur (Caviezel) teaches religious studies to the same kids he guides on the gridiron. One of his favorite verses of scripture is Matthew 23:13: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled. And whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” No matter how many times Coach Lad makes this point, he is unable to get his school or team to stop talking about continuing “the streak”. When the inevitable defeat comes, it’s hard for everyone. But there will be other tragedies that will affect the students at the same time, including the death of a teammate and some health concerns for the coach. Can they muster up the will to win again?
The film is based on Coach Ladouceur’s book of the same name (and I will have to read that some day, since I still don’t know how a game stands tall). The movie was pitched to church groups as an inspirational family film, but I still had some real problems with it. The first hour is so over focused on everyone on screen talking about the importance of “the streak”, you just know that things are about to take a turn for the worse. When an assistant coach (Michael Chiklis) in a moment of hubris challenges the number one high school team in the country to an old fashioned showdown, the stage is set for an emotional matchup.
In the second half of the film we get to spend the most time on the field. Here the film hits its stride, with a great reenactment of games filmed with energy and passion. Passion, alas, is solely lacking in Jim Caviezel’s faithful mimicry of perhaps the most monotone and low-key locker room talks ever recorded, courtesy of Coach Lad. (The real Bob Ladouceur is shown during the end credits)
I was also bothered by the film’s reluctance to talk about the Christian faith directly. Although we do hear the team saying The Lord’s Prayer together, the name of Jesus is never uttered (even in reference to gospel quotes). A watered down faith is barely faith at all. The script is never more than platitudes and predictable plot lines.
Because the film spends so much time telling the audience what it’s really about, there’s really nothing left to talk about after watching the movie. “Did you hear what they were saying about life?” “Yeah.” “So did I. Let’s go get a pizza.”
The score: Movie – Okay. Pizza – Awesome!
Four halos: You can’t fault the positive life messages.
Two pitchforks: For abusive parenting, an act of violence that takes a life, smoking, and wimpy use of scripture.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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