I should know. I was a member of a championship high school football team in Minnesota. Understanding the brotherhood of a football team at that young age will give a piece of whom you are capable of being who you want in the world. The message is that it doesn't matter whether you are a starter or a bench warmer. You will always be a part of it and respect the game.
One of my favorite books are H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights, I love it because football is only the window draping for the real story and a sportswriter for the Contra Costa Times, Neil Hayes follows that path respectfully. Opening in 2003 where the Spartans of De La Salle, a northern California high school holds a 151-game winning streak and as they open the 2004 season things begin to fall apart among the team because of egotism and complacency on winning.
Spartans head coach Bob Ladoceur (Jim Caviezel, CBS' Person of Interest) from the start shows that football is not a game, but a sport that dignifies teamwork and brotherhood within. We see an inner demon getting the best of him that leads him to not coaching leaving defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Teddy Eldson (Michael Chiklis, FX's The Shield) and the team to fend for themselves. Then another tragedy within leads to the first loss and that is when the film's message becomes the main focus with a dash of faith.
As you can see the story grabbed me from the first downfall. Just like Coach Carter, it has the richness in the storytelling and corny but effective dialogue. Ironically, Thomas Carter directed that sports gem as well as this. He keeps the characters and story as the focus leading to expertly staged football choreography that alone will imagine you feel like you are in the metal bleachers watching the action. However, its about coming together as a team again off the field.
The lead performances are excellent and in tap with their real-life subject. Caviezel captures the low-key but inspiring persona of Ladoceur who is a Christian and it shows when he is teaching his students. As always, Chiklis shows off versatility with some light comic bits and serious drama but never overacts but the best performance goes to Alexander Ludwig (Lone Survivor) as running back Chris Ryan. Not letting his good looks get the best of him but humanizing Ryan with heart and sincerity with the game. The ending alone will prove it
However, unlike the films I spoke of. This film starts off sloppy with its introduction of their characters and personal storytelling. Especially with the whining sub tale of Ladoceur's son, Danny (Matthew Daddario) who doesn't really bring out the emotion but whines even though his father went through a scary situation. Complains about his father will not be able to coach him in his senior season. The supporting acting is either thinly sketched or mediocre. Feeling like more like a glorified TV movie but Carter heads back to the richly told melodramatic real-life story. Wanted more depth when you have the talent like Laura Dern and Clancy Brown.
When the Game Stands Tall has excellent inspiration and the right director at work to bring well choreographed football action but as well balance the lessons off the field alone taking down slight flaws and making this a must-see for all people that have played high school athletics and know what it's like being a member of the team. I did and today, carry that unforgettable year in my heart and this film will introduce those days back and some tissues.