When the Game Stands Tall
Director(s): Thomas Carter
Writer(s): Scott Marshall Smith
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis, Alexander Ludwig, Clancy Brown, Laura Dern, Matthew Daddario, Jessie T. Usher, Richard Kohnke, Ser'Darius Blain and Stephan James
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Aug 22, 2014 - Wide
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Produced by Sony’s faith-based wing, Affirm Films, When the Game Stands Tall combines two of America’s greatest religions: football and, well, religion. Instead of a sports film about underdogs, we get the true-life story of the De La Salle High School Spartans, holders of the longest winning streak in any sport at 151 games. Led by their coach and Bible studies teacher Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) and his assistant coach Teddy Eidson (Michael Chiklis), the team is about to undergo some life-changing moments. The seniors like Cam Colvin (Ser’Darius Blain) and Terrance “TK” Kelly (Stephan James), stars on the field and firm believers in Coach Lad’s words of brotherhood, are heading off to college football. The team’s fortunes will soon rest on the shoulders of junior players interested in records (Alexander Ludwig), personal glory (Jessie Usher) and familial entitlement (Matthew Daddario). The coaches note that these younger players don’t have the same heart and when the death of player’s parent, a coach’s heart attack, and a player’s murder test the spirit of these young men, their fabled winning streak ends.
While the film handles its football scenes with plenty of sweat, kinetic energy and thudding sound effects, there are definitely some heavy-handed fumbles. In one scene, the passage-spouting coach has an almost halo-like glow behind him, while the soundtrack moves from light music to pounding hip hop whenever a scene takes place in a predominantly black neighbourhood. The screenplay sets up a full roster of story threads and it feels like many are just left untouched by the end like an incomplete pass. A few of the teachable moments were so clunky they elicited a few chuckles from the audience.
Micheal Chiklis has the most energy off the field and also manages to slip some humor in between the homilies. Laura Dern, though wonderful as always, is benched for most of the film in the underutilized wife/girlfriend role. Of all the players, the performances from Ser’Darius William Blain and Stephan James have the most emotional impact, but since they play the graduating heroes, we see far too little of them. Sadly, the dullest performance comes from the film’s star, Jim Caviezel. We see footage of the real Bob Ladouceur at the end of the film and he’s far more inspirational than Caviezel’s performance would let on. In fact, Caviezel’s performance is so wooden in this film that it’s hard to believe he played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ and not the cross.
While When the Game Stands Tall will probably do well with high school football players and church groups, most of us will want to wait for the upcoming NFL season.
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