Judge Daryl Loomis regularly pretends he's John Elway.
There are over one million high school football players. 60,000 of them will go on to play football in college in hopes of making it to the NFL. Only 1,696 of them will have that chance.
As the summer turns to autumn, the lights go up on Friday nights over fields across the country. Under those lights young men gather to play the sport that has become America's game. They play for different reasons, be it the competition, the camaraderie, or the girls, but all of them have the ultimate dream of playing on Sundays. Only a tiny fraction of them actually make it there, but that doesn't keep them from doing whatever it takes to realize their dream.
4th & Goal shows us this whittling process in action. Nina Gilden Seavey's documentary takes us to the Bay Area and City College of San Francisco, one of the premier junior college football programs in the country. While the very best of prep football head to Division 1 schools like the University of Oregon and Auburn straight out of high school, it's the Division 2 schools and junior colleges that act as a feeder system, taking the people who couldn't get into D1 for various reasons and developing them into players who can contribute to the larger programs. The best of these second-tier players head to CCSF, a junior college that has barely lost over the last decade, and 4th & Goal introduces us to six of these players as they begin the journey and follow them through the next few years. For some, that means heartbreak, for others, a taste of the dream, and for one, true success.
If you're any kind of pro football fan, it's immediately obvious who that one special player is. He's not a superstar like Tom Brady, but he did intercept one of Brady's passes in the Super Bowl and is a very, very good player, but no outright spoilers. 4th & Goal aspires to be football's answer to Hoop Dreams. It doesn't achieve that level; Hoop Dreams is one of the great sports documentaries of our time, but it's a good film with a sliding scale of value depending on who is watching it.
Even for somebody who couldn't care less about football, 4th & Goal stands as a good biographical piece and an interesting look at the dedication it takes for even a glimmer of reaching the big show. For football fans, all of that is still true, but there's even more value. Beyond seeing players one may remember from watching college games, it's a look into the inside world of college athletics, as well as the life lessons the individuals learned along their journey. For young football players, though, 4th & Goal is essential viewing. Not only does it give them a glimpse into their years to come, it's a slap in the face to the unlikelihood of their making it there. The film doesn't make it seem like an unworthy goal, though; quite the opposite. The film drives home the point that the best coaches are there to instruct their players in both football and life, to let them know that their ultimate goal, unlikely as it may be, is neither unattainable nor unworthy, just really, really hard.
4th & Goal is at its strongest in the first half, when all six of the players are together at one school where Seavey can talk to all of them and their coach in one place about life and football. After they split up in recruitment around the country, it becomes less focused. The narrative still holds up, but the second half is much more fractured than the first and we find the director jumping around from place to place without much reason to keep the timeline intact. In the end, after all the whittling down is done, the film becomes primarily about one player with small updates telling us where the rest of them are now. It works; their stories are interesting, but the second half doesn't move nearly as well as the first.
4th & Goal comes on DVD from First Run with a typical release for the label. The anamorphic image generally looks good for having been shot on video, but it's nothing special. The disc features two audio tracks that sound nearly alike, a surround track that I guess uses the rear channels sometimes and a stereo track that's basically the same. The only extra is the director's notes that are typical of the label and never very interesting. Still, it's a good film with a lot of value, especially for young footballers who harbor the NFL dream.
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