When the Game Stands Tall (Thomas Carter, 2014)
“Inspired by the extraordinary true story” (as the poster reminds us) of how the members of De La Salle High School‘s football team struggled to regain their sense of purpose (and of faith) when they lost two games in a row after a 151-game winning streak, When the Game Stands Tall hits every tired sports movie cliché in the playbook and augments each one with ostentatious displays of Christian belief that are clumsy enough to embarrass even the most devout among us. It’s a fiasco of messy storytelling that asks us to care about its grotesquely underwritten characters just because they spout platitudes of brotherhood and God. When one of the families faces an actual tragedy (sorry, but losing games doesn’t count), we mourn their loss, but it’s hard to feel anything truly genuine since we hardly know those involved. The movie strives to be Hoosiers but instead comes across as the The Passion of the Coach, which perhaps shouldn’t surprise us since said coach is played by Jim Caviezel (Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ). Drop kick me Jesus, indeed!
On the plus side, When the Game Stands Tall is that rare example of a film where the 2nd act is actually the strongest part of the enterprise. Normally, screenplays that start and end well suffer in the middle: it’s a lot easier to write the fun opening and wild finish. But here, the first 45 minutes are completely unfocused, with barely distinguishable young football players running around looking mopey, presaging their inevitable defeat. Once that defeat happens, however, the movie jettisons its religious mission for a bit and focuses on the game that brings the team together and turns their fortunes around. While it does that, it’s (somewhat) interesting. And then it all falls apart again. But I think I’ll save this movie somewhere in my memory bank as one to show my students in the future, as the exception that proves the rule of the usual script issues. Badly acted and poorly conceived, the film is otherwise not worth its ticket price, however. Stay away.