Saturday, August 30, 2014

When The Game Stands Tall

When The Game Stands Tall is the story of the De La Salle High School football Spartans, a California squad whose record 151-game winning streak came to an end in 2004. The previews don’t mention that De La Salle is a private religious school, able to attract players from a wider area than its rivals. The movie, directed by Thomas Carter (the screenplay is drawn from a book by Neil Hayes), is filled with game sequences and inspirational speeches but is almost obtusely concerned with adversity and the overcoming of it by the team. To the extent that When The Game Stands Tall works, it does so because Jim Caviezel commits to playing a boring character. Caviezel plays Head Coach Bob Ladouceur, who in the movie’s conception is a man who views himself as a teacher who just happens to be a football coach. Ladouceur is committed to the development of his players as men and to the ideals that the movie espouses: team, humility, hard work. Caviezel attacks the role with the appropriate doggedness, but the movie forgoes any sense that Ladouceur enjoys his success or that he’s even a brilliant football mind. (The real Ladouceur retired in 2013 having won over 93 percent of his games.) Michael Chiklis is much more convincing as an assistant coach, and as Ladouceur’s wife Laura Dern gets to play all kinds of conflicting emotions as she watches her husband reject lucrative college coaching offers. Once the streak ends early in the movie there is little that happens that one won’t expect. A hot-dog receiver (Jessie Usher) becomes a team player, a star running back (Alexander Ludwig) struggles with an overbearing father (Clancy Brown), and the coach’s son (Matthew Daddario) is asked to come through at a key moment. There is even a big game at the end, though refreshingly the movie doesn’t hinge on the outcome. When The Game Stands Tall contains an admirable message but too little of the exhilaration of sports.

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