Based on author Neil Hayes novel and directed by Thomas Carter (Coach Carter, Save The Last Dance), WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL is a film that reaches for greatness only to be weighed down but it’s own self induced expectations.
Inspired by a true story, WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL brings to life the incredible winning streak of the De La Salle High School football team: 151 straight victories over 12 years. All along the way, as Coach Bob Ladouceur builds his seemingly invincible national powerhouse, he has emphasized purpose and significance rather than streaks and titles. But when real-life adversity leaves the team reeling, the Spartans must decide if the sacrifice, commitment, and teamwork they have always trusted in can rebuild what is now disintegrating around them
There are rare glimpses of “behind the curtain” moments that I really enjoyed in WTGST. Players life at home, coaches relationship with the players. Meetings about expressing feelings openly to make the team a stronger unit. This was all really unique, cool stuff that kept me locked into the movie.
When The Game Stands Tall also does a real commendable job to show the love that goes into the game from the coaches and the players. This film projects a side of H.S. football that empathizes the teaching, mentoring, brotherhood, and family aspects that the game of football teaches. That I can respect and get behind.
There are a couple things here that are too alarming not to be seen. Firstly, making an idol out of head coach Bob Ladoucer, played by Jim Caviezel. Caviezel actually plays him very well I thought but unfortunately the film is so busy beautifying its protagonist that it makes him into a grave idol rather than a man. It becomes almost unobtainable to connect with him by the end of the film.
The bigger glaring issue though is simply WTGST is just too complicated, too convoluted. Look, this was a simple story to tell and honestly it’s an inspiring one. But when the film tries to jam pack every sports family movie trope into 2 hours it starts to lose perspective. In the end we get a confused narrative that leads us nowhere. The message and journey that are in the movie are great and inspiring, but they try and pack in way too many unnecessary details that leaves us with unclear, complicated experience.
It’s difficult to love a film like When the Game Stands Tall. The movie takes several notable missteps along the way with a few strange tonal shifts. But it’s also hard not to appreciate its heart and its love for the players who are openly vulnerable with their feelings and ultimately realize that there are more important things in life than setting records and scoring goals.
This football film suffers from an inherent contradiction that this sincere, heartwarming film grapples with more honestly than most. True, there’s more to life than football, but then again nobody wants to watch a movie about studying for your SATs. Its not that I wouldn’t mind watching a film that touted life more than football, I would actually welcome it. But at the end of the day I have to believe it.
If your are looking for an inspirational football movie to usher in high school football season, try “Undefeated” a great, little know 2011 documentary. Not that “WTGST” isn’t worth your time, but if your time is limited, choose wisely!