Past the Popcorn: When the Game Stands Tall

by Jeff Walls

If I were to tell you that they were making a movie about a team that won 151 consecutive football games, you might assume that the movie would be about how this team came together to accomplish that feat.  When the Games Stands Tall is about the team that experienced that tremendous winning streak, but instead of focusing on what went into the streak, the movie focuses on what came after: how the team bounced back from an onslaught of adversity that hit them all at once.

The movie opens with the Da La Salle High School Spartans winning their 151st consecutive game and claiming another in a long line of state titles.  Head Coach Bob Ladouceur is proud of his players—not for their accomplishments on the field so much as their accomplishments off it.  He does not consider himself so much a football coach as he does a mentor for young men.  His ability to coach and teach comes into jeopardy, however, when he is hit with a sudden heart attack.

when-the-game-stands-tall-insetAlready dealing with the hospitalization of their coach, the players are also devastated by the sudden loss of one of their most beloved players, the victim of what appears to be a random act of violence.  Add that adversity to the team’s first loss in twelve years and the players find themselves lost.  Bickering, selfishness, and a lack of talent threaten to rip the team apart, but Coach Ladouceur has a plan to get them back on track.

The true-life story that inspired When the Game Stands Tall is a great one and the accomplishments of head coach Bob Ladouceur should be lauded.  The movie version of this story is very well done…if not revolutionary.  It is inspiring to watch, but the script does get too preachy at times.

The scenes on the field are remarkably filmed.  Watching the movie, the audience really does get the sense that they are in the middle of a real football game.  A lot of credit for this must to go the staging and cinematography.  The actors deserve their share of the credit, too, for looking like they actually do belong on a football field.

Jim Caviezel plays head coach Bob Ladouceur and although he does well with the motivational speeches, he does not seem to be having a lot of fun.  He’s very serious, which is good for a football coach—and judging from the scenes of the real Bob Ladouceur during the closing credits, it is very accurate—but he is also the lead of the movie and that role could have used a little more personality.  It’s that lack of charm that keeps the movie from being as entertaining as the movie this film will surely be compared to in 2000’s Remember the Titans.  Of course, that movie had the advantage in that it starred one of the most charming actors alive, Denzel Washington.  As assistant coach Terry Eidson, Michael Chiklis does bring a little bit of that personality, but I still would have liked to have seen more.

The movie does a good job of telling its remarkable true story and it is entertaining to watch.  The result is a typical inspirational sports drama; nothing more, nothing less.

When the Game Stands Tall opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again?

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