Directed by Thomas Carter
Written by Scott Marshall Smith
There are many different types of sports movies, told from all sorts of different perspectives, but the idea of a powerhouse, undefeated team and the pressures and elements that make up that dynamic doesn’t come first to mind. I suppose there is some precedent on an individual basis with films such as 61* from the baseball world. I had heard of De La Salle High School and its unbelievable winning streak, but I never knew anything about the program, the coaches, or the players that contributed to this decades long streak. It is hard to imagine the kind of pressure that would mount with each passing win, to continue the streak and not be the team that lost it. A lot of stress for a bunch of teenagers to shoulder when they should be thinking and enjoying much lighter times in their lives.
Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) is the legendary football coach of De La Salle high school, proud owners of the nation’s longest winning streak of 151 games, an incredible decade long streak. As the team gets ready for its new season, the seniors, including star player Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig), shoulder the load to continue the streak. But after losing the first two games of the year, and heading into playing the #1 team in the country, the De La Salle football program has a lot of adversity to face, both on and off the field.
I largely struggled to connect with the message of this film. Sure, pressure and adversity hit everywhere, and it definitely hits here, but this is a story about the most successful program perhaps ever losing two games and it being the end of the world. It’s about a head football coach who was likely the most successful in the country losing two games and it being the end of the world, wondering what the next steps are. I do not mean to diminish what must have been tremendous pressure to succeed, and especially since Coach “Lad” suffered a life threatening heart attack as well. I really respect the work these people went through, but I definitely struggled to largely sympathize with proven winners who experienced very little real downswings.
So while right off the top, the storyline failed to win me over, the rest of the film felt slight as well. It felt very glossy and I was underwhelmed by the characters and especially the performances. Caviezel was very ho-hum, very mild mannered and stood at stark contrast across from Laura Dern as his wife. The young part of the cast felt like they were definitely first time performers, some with more long term promise than others (like Alexander Ludwig and Stephan James).
The large problem with these type of “inspirational” football movies is they are often so formulaic and familiar. So safe and standard. We’ve seen this approach to football movies time and time again and on top of failing to provide anything new to the genre, When the Game Stands Tall also fails to connect with a fresh perspective of a team that always wins losing a couple of games. Give me Friday Night Lights for a real look at the pressures of high school football. Give me Remember the Titans for overcoming obstacles to win. When the Game Stands Tall is just largely a forgettable experience about an element of football I have very little interest in. Its greatest crime was not doing anything interesting with the material either.