Judge David Johnson and his emotional vulnerability to inspiring sports movies throw a flag on account of misty eyes.
From McG comes a McFeelgood McMovie about McFootball that should make any McFamily McHappy. McCheck it out.
Facts of the Case
This is a true story. In 1970, Marshall University suffered a horrific tragedy when a plane crash took the lives of 75 people, including the football team, coaches, town VIPs, and boosters. It was a horrific blow to the town, but the university decided to resuscitate the mortally wounded football program.
They brought on an eccentric head coach from Ohio named Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey, Sahara), teamed him with emotionally damaged assistant coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox, Lost), and charged them with the imposing feat of rebuilding the program.
As the town and team struggled with its collective grief, Lengyel, Dawson, and university president Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) moved to bring new players to the club and "rise from the ashes" to take the field once more.
We Are Marshall is a fine sports movie, containing all the necessary ingredients to produce a piping hot serving of goosebumps, inspiration, and a family-friendly display of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, blah blah blah. Bottom line, the film tells a riveting true story and presents it very well, following a tried-and-true game-plan of the genre. You like this kind of stuff? You won't be disappointed.
Let's take a closer look at how McG and company run the flag route so well to create an effective sports movie:
We'll start at the top and forward credit to McG himself. Now, I had harbored little excitement for this guy's projects, having suffered through Charlie's Angels. As for Charlie's Angels Full Throttle, I think I'd rather engage in a vigorous round of frottage with a pile of dry ice than subject myself to that. But the guy has ingratiated himself to me through his participation in Supernatural, a show I enjoy very much, and now this.
Gone is the hyper-kinetic, ADHD directorial approach, replaced with a more traditional, evenhanded take to documenting the story. McG does inject a few flourishes, but they all work, especially the plane crash sequence, which was shocking in its abruptness. The on-field football action moves quickly, but not in an over-stylized MTV way; the sports mayhem is legitimately thrilling.
Kudos then to the three-lettered man for letting the story and the acting do most of the work. For a narrative of this power, that's the only way to play it.
The Story and the Acting
Hey, since we're on the subject—the acting is uniformly top-shelf and the story, so engaging to begin with and no doubt touched up with some dramatic moments, is compelling.
McConaughey is great fun, turning in a performance that is both funny and touching, Fox shoulders much of the emotional load, embodying the ups and downs of grief for the entire town, and Strathairn is as awesome as usual, offering a sweet-natured portrayal of a good guy that refreshingly contrasts his recent turn as a grade-A douchebag from The Bourne Ultimatum. Supporting work is excellent, though a side story involving Ian McShane (Deadwood) as grieving father and his almost-daughter-in-law doesn't bring enough weight to the story to justify its portion of the runtime.
Football is Cool!
As previously stated, the gridiron shenanigans are impressively staged and deliver the requisite down-to-the-wire and David-vs.-Goliath tension we've come to expect in sports moves of this nature. Cliched, sure, but it's mandatory and it fits the film nicely. Besides, after all of the trauma, heartwarming genre conventions have never been more welcome.
A PG rating
You read that right. Seemingly extinct, the live-action PG film returns; aside from a couple of S-bombs and some underage beer drinking, there's nothing offensive here—that is, except the linebackers! Ka-pow!
The HD presentation serves the film well. Picture quality is stark and detailed and color levels really pop. Football games offer a great, varied palette of colors, from the green grass of the field to the players' uniforms to the clothing ensembles of the fans, and it all looks great in high-definition. Audio mixes are offered via Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and normal 5.1 (French); all sound clean and aggressive. The soundtrack, which can be a bit syrupy at times, receives the best treatment. Authentic songs from the era sound terrific. The bonus material, unfortunately, is a major disappointment. On the HD-DVD side you'll get a featurette titled "Legendary Coaches," which is a survey of popular college coaches. On the DVD flipside there's an additional Marshall featurette, but it's more a recruiting ad than anything. With such a rich premise and back story, the lack of extras on We Are Marshall is nothing more than a fumble.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Are there saccharine moments to be found? Sure. But if you want to be bummed out by a sports movie go watch Any Given Sunday and lament Elizabeth Berkley's career being typecast as a whore.
Moving, funny, inspirational: all those adjective are applicable to We Are Marshall, a well-executed family sports film and a capable case study in communal grief.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Legendary Coaches"
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