MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin. Starring Caleb Castille, Sean Astin
For families looking for a movie that provides a safe way to talk about racism, you could hardly do better than Woodlawn, the latest film from The Erwin Brothers, writer-directors of intentionally Christian entertainment (Mom’s Night Out, October Baby). Although these filmmakers are not as well known as Alex and Stephen Kendrick (War Room, Fireproof), I am hoping for their reputation to rise on the basis of Woodlawn alone. It is exceptional in every way with good acting, an intelligent script, and decent football action (something that the Kendrick brother’s Facing the Giants sadly fumbled).
And yes, this is a football film based on a true story (the closest comparison may be 2000’s Remember the Titans). The year is 1973, the town is Birmingham, Alabama, and Woodlawn High School is doing its best to integrate their football team with the addition of Tony Nathan (Castille), a talented young black running back. Integration is still facing a tough uphill climb and everyone seems poised for a fight, triggered by the smallest provocation. Coach Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop) is getting hit from all sides, including public taunts by George “Shorty” White (C. Thomas Howell), coach of Banks High School, their toughest competitor.
One day a young man walks into the gym and introduces himself to them as “Hank” (Astin). He is a self-described “chaplain” and asks for just a few minutes to speak to the team. He then gives a pep talk about faith, commitment, and Christ and then invites them to step forward and receive what God has to give. The Holy Spirit seems to show up that day and the team begins to move forward with Christ as their guide.
If this were not a true story, it might have veered into melodramatic Christian film territory. But the Erwin Brothers know this story well. That chaplain was Hank Erwin, their father, who would later become a Christian radio talk show host and a state senator.
Woodlawn also features “Bear” Bryant (Jon Voight), coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, who will eventually recruit Tony Nathan to play for the college.
There are many transformational moments in Woodlawn, and it is a good reminder of the positive effects of Christian example, even to those who do not profess religious conviction.
I think that the film might have played better in theaters without the heavy-handed Christian epilogue, but subsequent viewings in churches and homes will benefit from this testimony. Woodlawn is a family-friendly movie that shows the incredible power of prayer when it is united with personal witness.
Five halos: A well-made, fact-based film about faith’s ability to disarm racism.
Two pitchforks: Well, there’s racism; mild violence; mild epithets; implied family dysfunction.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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