“They make it the way no one else can” there is something about the American sport films which is so very alluring and even their most obscure Sport film ranks right up there with the very best that the rest of the world has to offer. They have made it about every conceivable sport that we can think of. Hockey, Football, Boxing, Rugby, Ice Hockey, Basketball, Baseball etc etc etc. The list would just go on and on. I have grown up watching films like “Remember The Titans”, “Coach Carter”, “Moneyball” etc and never for once have I been let down by these films. The sheer power and character of the American Sports films are bound to take control of your senses everytime you see one and that’s up to a great extent the case with “When The Game Stands Tall”.
The story revolves around legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) who coached the De La Salle High School Spartans for a period of 25 years in which he took the team from obscurity to 151
game winning streak. The film begins with the team and the coach at the pinnacle of success but then things get bad as some of the fellow schools accuse coach Ladouceur of cheating as they believe no one can win for straight 151 games. Things get further worse as Ladouceur has a heart attacks and stands at risk of missing the season. The Spartans finally lose a game ending their much cherished streak. The rest of the film deals with how Ladouceur fights with destiny to come back and coach the boys whom he believes to be more than just students.
When The Game Stands Tall deals more with the mechanics of the team bonding and sentimentally of the players than the usual tactics and tricks of the trade. This is a very sentimental film which for a very large part steers clear of the usual materials that we usually associate with sports films. Even the coach here is much softer than what we usually see for American Sports films. He is someone who is more of a father figure to his boys and plays a key role in shaping their lives. Ladouceur makes it abundantly clear through his own words that It’s not just a football team or win-streak machine. It’s a family. A brotherhood which is based in love where love means you can count on me, in good times and in bad. Having said that the film does have its share of foot-balling action and there is no dearth of it.
The match towards the climax between the Spartans and Poly is easily the highest point of the film if we are talking about football. The Poly’s are depicted as giants and one little scene where the Spartans are in the waiting room as the Poly starts taking field with the room literally shaking with their footsteps goes out to underline the sheer strength of the team. So when the Spartans actually beat them, it is that much more special. The scene at the climax where one of the players decides to honor his coach instead of going for a personal record is another heart warming display of not only sportsmanship but sheer love for a guardian.
Jim Caviezel has been a favorite of mine since I watched the Series Person Of Interest. Over the years he has been doing some quality work and When The Game Stands Tall will rank right up there with the rest. He is the heart and soul of the film and it is interesting to note that unlike many other previous essays that we have seen of coaches replicating the real life entities, he gets the mannerism, dialog and even, up to an extent, the look and feel right of the character. Michael Chiklis as his assistant is noteworthy. Laura Dern plays his wife who does most of the “show the man a mirror” act and its always at the right time.
On the flip side, the film’s sentimentality could go a bit against its “mojo” as many of the viewers who will be coming in to watch an out and out sports-action film might be a tad bit disappointed by the slow pace and rather soft and tender relation that each of the players and the two coaches share with each other. If you are cool with that then this film will prove to be extremely rewarding for you. When The Game Stands Tall is a heartwarming tale of love, courage and brotherhood. This is one of those films which has to be enjoyed with a clear mind and a clean heart. There is plenty of football action and whole lot more of drama. This film should wet your appetite if you have a feel for sensible and thought provoking cinema. Highly recommended.