'We Are Marshall'
(Matthew McConaughy, Matthew Fox, et al / DVD / PG / (2006) 2007 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: Football is a game that knocks you down, then expects you to get back up. Life hit the West Virginia town of Huntington and its Marshall University even harder. When it did, Jack Lengyel came by to help pull them onto their feet by taking the job no one wanted: rebuilding the Marshall football program only months after a plane crash wiped out Marshall's beloved Thundering Herd. Matthew McConaughey portrays Lengyel, the energetic, compassionate coach of inexperienced players whose chances of victory are slim and none. They'll go with the slim. And as they do, their true-life story of heart, healing, and football will thrill and inspire you. It's game day. Time to play till the whistle blows!
DVD Verdict: I remember clearly, as a high school junior, the shock and loss that the crash of the aircraft carrying the Marshall University football team invested on a nation. The town, the college, and those left behind must have suffered so. It has taken 25 years to portray that loss on film, and the December film, "We Are Marshall", while not living up to its promise as one of the years "awardable" movies, was nevertheless a moving film experience.
The film deals briefly with the events leading up to the crash, and then in depth with the different ways that those affiliated with the school grieve and start over again. Star athlete Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie) is stunned at the fact that he wasn't on the plane, due to injury, and that his legacy is to pick up where the team left off and start over again. His faith in that new start never waivers. Unlike Ruffin, the school's administration and its president Donald Dedmon (the always excellent David Strathairn)
are more realistic. They can't recruit, can't play freshman, can't rebuild right away. The school is small and although "The Thundering Herd" were important to students, alumni and faculty alike, the task is insurmountable. They will suspend the program for a few years to give everyone a chance to recover.
The student body has a different plan, and their outrage presents Dedmon with the need to try. He can't find a coach and has to settle for a virtual unknown from the College of Wooster. Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey, complete with greasy hair in an unlikely length and clothes of plaid polyester) accepts the challenge He's just savvy and stubborn enough to make it work, to reformat and refashion a team of sorts, and even to talk former recruiting scout, Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) into returning as an assistant coach.
The remainder of the film deals with both the practical matter of building the team, the difficulty in winning, and the way those in the town and at the school deal with the grief of what might have been.
Director McG, not a favorite of mine (he brought us BOTH Charlie's Angel's films) surprises with his light touch with the story and his ability to let the film find its own legs. It is a poignant tale. It bogs down between the decision to move forward with the team and the actual first game. The game sequences have an authentic feel, and the score moves well with the film. The film feels like authentic West Virginia and authentic 70's. It never attempts to be something it isn't; it's a sports film that treats the sport within the greater landscape of what was happening in the times and how emotions sometimes get in the way of moving on with your life. It deeply affected the crowd in the theater on the day I saw it.
McConaughey is goofy, offbeat and believable as Lengyel. Aside from his performance, everyone else in the film works well together as an ensemble, with few false notes but not much to remember about their contributions. There's no cliche here, just a simple story that will make you both sad and hopeful. Forget what the critics say, "We Are Marshall" will touch you. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Legendary Coaches: How coaches Overcome Adversity