Next to “starring Jim Carrey,” the movie poster phrase that gives me the deepest case of heebie-jeebies is ‘based on a true story.”
Too often a flimsy excuse for blowhard platitudes, or a conveniently noble dodge for sloppy filmmaking, it’s a rare case where you come out of a ‘true story’ feeling like you have indeed been told some version of the truth. “When The Game Stands Tall” can’t be accused of sloppiness, but it combines grounded reality with feel-good sports movie conventions to mixed, truth-ish affect.
Jim Caviezel stars as real-life high school football coach Bob Ladouceur, whose De La Salle Spartans compiled a record winning streak of 151 games. A series of traumatic events–including the end of the fabled streak, the shooting death of a team member, and the coach’s near-fatal heart attack—force the coach and his players to rebuild and reevaluate what is most important to them. The film also stars Laura Dern as Ladouceur’s loyal wife, Michael Chiklis as his assistant coach Terry Eidson, and Clancy Brown as the brow-beating father of a player.
Director Thomas Carter and writer Scott Thomas Smith put a surprising number of plates into the air in this slender story, with plot threads about the coach’s family drama, the star running back’s pursuit of a state record in the face of his father’s pressure, and the player with the dying mother and dreams of college ball. All this, and lots of crunching, highly choreographed football, too (there’s so much flipping and twisting about, its like the Olympic diving pool on the gridiron).
Those plates are all part of a shaky balancing act that the film only occasionally pulls off. Doling out sincere, faith-based biopic and hand-me-down moralizing drama in equal measure, it wants to celebrate victory in life as bigger than victory on the field. Up to a certain point, okay then.
But the winners of 151 straight games are hard to see as underdogs, no matter how much the film tries to paint them that way. “Game” eats its cake, too, setting emotional plot lines in efficient motion, then letting them circle the runway for the predictable big game and its more predictable sports movie clichés.
Caviezel is solid as the coach, under-stated in a way that makes you think of some real life inspirational teacher you may have had. You believe that he believes in his players, even when the script can’t find much new in the way of dramatizing that belief. Dern and Chiklis are good as well, and the supporting cast of young actors give it their best, even when the script falls back on the tried and not-so-true, like the subplot about the demanding father.
The Blu-ray of “When The Game Stands Tall” is presented in 1080p high Definition, in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The picture quality is good for the most part, with bright greens and sharp movement, but watch the football and how it flickers at times in the football sequences. Bad CGI? Pixellation problem? There are subtitle options for English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. There is a DVD copy included in the Blu-ray packaging.
The audio track is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio in English and Portuguese, and 5.1 Dolby Digital for the French, Spanish, and English descriptive tracks. Audio is crisp and focused, especially in the game sequences.
- a commentary track with director Thomas Carter
- A standard, no frills making-of featurette
Exclusives to the Blu-ray disc:
- Commentary on select scenes with Carter and the real coach Bob Ladouceur, who is very much like the intelligent, plain-spoken man portrayed in the film.
- A set of deleted and extended scenes, which are not worth the effort.
- “Gridiron Action: Filming The Football Scenes”—yep, that’s what its about. Actually, the best of the extras.
- “The Heart and Soul of a Program: Bob Ladouceur”—interesting further bio and interviews about the legendary coach and his system of working with young men through football.
While far from the dread-inspiring trudge portended by “based on a true story,” “When The Game Stands Tall” can’t pull all of its threads together, and rides heavily on tired sports clichés.