Coach Bob Ladouceur: Winning a lot of football games is doable. Teaching kids there’s more to life? That’s hard.Most sports movies show us the underdog team fighting their way to the top by the end.
When the Game Stands Tall, however, begins with an unusual premise.
It poses the question of what happens to the team who breaks their school's incredible 151-game winning streak. How do they cope with failing the community, not to mention their teammates and themselves? And how do they view not only themselves but the game of football afterward?
Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) built the winning De La Salle Catholic high school football team by emphasizing personal excellence and team brotherhood. That worldview informs all aspects of this film.
Ladouceur's personal journey winds through the story as he faces the challenge of being a father, husband, and coach. Bookending his story are those of two football players, one poor, one wealthy, one with no father, one with a father he can never please, one who feels cursed, one who seems to have everything. Taken together, all three stories weave a much more layered tale than I have come to expect from sports movies in the past.
When the Game Stands Tall has its fair share of cliches, as do most football movies, but it also has some welcome surprises. We know most coaches have to teach classes but I was surprised at Coach Ladouceur's area of expertise. We know there will be a big game, a "Super Bowl moment" if you will, against the powerful nemesis but I didn't expect what came afterward. We know there will be a special training moment that helps bond the team into brothers but I definitely did not expect the unconventional method we saw. We know there are often boys without fathers or those whose fathers fail them but I didn't expect to have the Book of Job repeatedly come to mind with modern resonance.
I also liked the fact that this movie doesn't hit you over the head with a hammer most of the time. It is not afraid to leave some questions unanswered so that viewers may mull them over. It is not afraid to show characters who are lost and then not give an easy fix for their problem.
This movie is about brotherhood, fatherhood, and finding our way in a difficult world. It is about forming our souls through decisions made in times of trouble and hardship. It is about the intentions behind our actions and living for others more than we live for ourselves.
It is about football but it is for everyone.
For me it was head and shoulders above The Blind Side or Remember the Titans. It even gives Friday Night Lights a run for its money. Not in technical know how, though the movie is well enough made, but in heart. Extraordinarily, this movie is based on a real story and many of the coach's lines in the movie come from real life. That just gives it more emotional heft.
Go see it.