While director McG has gained a reputation for flashy entertainment like the "Charlie's Angels" films and the guilty pleasure TV series "Fastlane", he's certainly not displayed any ability to try to tackle something of any substance. So, imagine my surprise when the director chose "We Are Marshall" as his latest project. The film, which takes a look at the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of the entire Marshall University football team, as well as the lives of the crew and a small group of big local supporters.
For those who've read this site long enough, you may be aware that I don't like sports films. It's not that I don't like sports, mind you - love watching football - but the sports film has gotten to the point where they all seem more cliched than the last, aside from a few surprises here-and-there, such as last year's reasonably entertaining, "Invincible".
So, imagine my surprise when I found myself really enjoying "We Are Marshall", a genuinely moving and often powerful sports drama that, despite its Big Emotional Moments, never seems manipulative. The film opens with the Marshall University team losing a big game and then boarding a plane for the flight home. The chartered jet crashed in the woods nearby just prior to landing. No one survived. Assistant Coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) and two injured players remained of the team, as they were not on-board.
University President Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) and Paul Griffen (Ian McShane, stellar in a subtle performance) decide to close the school's football program until further notice, allowing the community a time to grieve. However, player Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie) pushes the student body to protest the decision, and they stage a stand-in outside the window of a university meeting.
Now, here's an example of a scene that, in a lot of other movies, would seem overly sappy, but it's handled well here, builds beautifully, is well acted and well filmed. Christophe Beck's score also helps, as while it's calculated to bring out the maximum emotions, when the rest of the movie works as well as it does in this movie, one gets caught up in the thing.
The middle of the film has the University deciding to rebuild the team despite opposition from some, and the difficulties in trying to round up a staff and team quickly. A coach - the eccentric Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), who brings Fox's coach Dawson back into the team, who comes together in order to face the season.
Director McG not only surprises with his sensitive, not overly manipulative approach to the material, but with his rather restrained (for him) style. While the film's camerawork is a little flashy at times, the flashiest moments do serve to highlight moments in the games. McG also gets above-average performances from a solid cast, including an excellent performance from "Deadwood" star Ian McShane and really, what has to be Matthew McConaughey's best performance in quite some time. Anthony Mackie is also excellent, and Matthew Fox is reasonably good in a supporting effort.
Still, the movie isn't without a few issues. As much as I liked the movie, excess is excess, and 131 minutes does seem unnecessary for the material. 15-20 minutes of trims would have likely made for a tighter film. I usually can't stand sports movies, but I liked this one: it's a big, heartfelt and emotional football flick with mostly excellent performances.
VIDEO: "We Are Marshall" is presented by Warner Brotehrs in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This was, overall, an excellent presentation with few concerns. Sharpness and detail were usually terrific, as the picture often looked crisp and well-defined throughout the majority of the running time. A few wide shots looked a tad softer than the rest, but most of the film looked crisp and detailed. Flaws are limited to some slight edge enhancement, as no artifacting or print flaws were spotted. Colors remained warm and rich, with no smearing or other concerns. Overall, this was a first-rate transfer.
SOUND: "We Are Marshall" is presented by Warner Brothers in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's presentation is fairly forward-oriented, although there are moments (such as during the games), where the surrounds open up to try and provide some mild reinforcement. The game scenes, for example, have the surrounds kicking in to provide some ambience, such as crowd sounds. Audio quality is stellar, with crisp audio, a rich, bold score and clear sound effects.
EXTRAS: "Legendary Coaches" is a 36-minute documentary that visits with a series of famous coaches, who discuss their philosophies on coaching and life. These interviews are honest, straightforward and sometimes surprising. The real Jack Lengyel is also interviewed for the program. "Marshall Now" is a minute long promo about the school in present day. Finally, there's the trailer.
Final Thoughts: I usually can't stand sports movies, but I liked this one: it's a big, heartfelt and emotional football flick with mostly excellent performances. I honestly didn't expect very much from this movie, but found it to be a surprisingly satisfying drama. The DVD offers excellent audio/video, but minimal supplements. Still, it gets a recommendation from me.
The Film B+