Inspired by the true story, Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) plays high school football coach Bob Ladouceur during the season that changed everything. As coach of the Spartans Football Team, Bob always tells his players that winning doesn't matter. Yet somehow, with the aid of assistant coach Terry Eidson (Michael Chiklis, TV’s “The Shield”), he’s led the team to a record-breaking 151 straight victories. When his wife Bev (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park) urges him to refocus on his family, Bob is blinded by the pressure to keep the streak alive. Now, in the midst of a season of crisis and tragedy when the Spartans stand to lose everything, a remarkable young player (Alexander Ludwig, The Hunger Games) helps Bob rediscover that teamwork outshines personal glory When The Game Stands Tall.
The inspirational sports movie genre always musters up a successful box office receipt and draws large crowds to the theater over the weekend. From films like ‘Remember the Titans‘ to ‘Glory Road‘ to even ‘Miracle‘, these movies had great performances, cohesive story telling, excellent action scenes, and a powerful message that was executed very well to pull our heart strings and entertain us in the span of two hours. I really wish that I could say the same for Thomas Carter’s adaptation of the real life story of the De La Salle Spartan football team in his film ‘When The Game Stands Tall‘.
I’m sure the studio was banking on the high school crowd to spend their hard earned money on this one, but with its bad story telling, cheesy dialogue, and terrible acting, I’m thinking this film is a few yards short of a touchdown. Director Thomas Carter has a pretty impressive resume. With films like ‘Swing Kids‘, ‘Coach Carter‘, ‘Save the Last Dance‘, and ‘Metro'; you know he is fully capable of making something great, but it seems like he was asleep at the wheel for this outing.
‘When the Game Stands Tall‘ follows the real life De La Salle Spartan football team where real life coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) has led his team along with his assistant coach Terry Eidson(Michael Chiklis) to a record shattering 151 straight wins in a row back in 2003. But the film doesn’t capture the moments of their impressive winning streak. Instead it picks up around 2004, where their streak is broken due to one of their teammates being murdered before heading off to college on a major scholarship, Coach Ladouceur having a major heart attack, and another teammate who has lost his whole family and has become an orphan. It’s a lot to take in, and I feel like we would have taken this journey with these characters, but the performances were all too bland.
Underneath all of the blood, sweat, and tears of the his football program, is a very religious undertone, which the studio neglected to show in their trailers. De La Salle High School is in fact a very religious Catholic High School where Ladouceur not only coaches the football team, but teaches the Gospel to his students, which he incorporates onto the field as well. There is not ten minutes that goes by where we don’t have a religious and somewhat inspiring speech by the coach, no matter if it is about coming together as a football team to play the perfect game, picking yourself up after a loss, or deciding to take a better job, we are hit over the head with these monologues so much so that we are taken away from the true story here.
Even when the football team is forced to spend the day at a veteran rehab facility, where they see newly wounded and amputated soldiers healing, who still have the sense of humor and will to push themselves to learn to walk and talk again in order to teach these high school football players about brotherhood and picking yourself back up, you can’t help but feel its cheesiness. The two plot points of the film that I thought were actually worth exploring, weren’t explored at all, which was Ladouceur’s wife played by the lovely Laura Dern, who does a sincere job, but given the bad script can only go so far, and is left on the sidelines, except only when she encourages her husband to take a college coaching job. The other is with one of the star football players on the team and his dad who is an abusive and mean son-of-a-bitch who thinks that winning is the only thing in life and if his son doesn’t bring home the gold, he’ll pay for it in bruises. Again, we see glimpses of these aspects, but it never really goes anywhere.
Perhaps the one thing that Carter did extremely well here was the camerawork on the football field, which oddly enough, he had someone else direct. You can feel every hit, tackle and take down, as if it were happening to you. It’s brutal, fast paced, and well edited, as you’ll always be able to follow what’s happening on the field. It was the highlight of the movie. It seems like Caviezel lost his ability to act in this film, as he is always an emotionless robot, void of showing any sentiment to whatever is happening around him. Chiklis is always funny and gives it his all and the rest of the football team do a decent job, but nobody is stand out. Sure, it’s impressive that the real life high school football team won 151 games in a row and that the message here is a good message, but with the bland acting and its terrible script and poor execution, this game certainly doesn’t stand tall.
'When The Game Stands Tall' comes with an impressive 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Unlike the film itself, this image quality amazing. Sony did a fantastic job on this transfer. I'm going to say this is one of the best looking sports movie on the market, technically speaking. The detail is vivid and very sharp, giving us a a good amount of depth in every scene. Closeups reveal individual hairs on each player and coach, every bead of sweat, scar, wound, and makeup blemish. Hell, you can even make out individual blades of grass at certain moments on the football field.
Background items, such as people in the stands, props, and set pieces are all crystal clear as well. Colors always pop off screen too. The whites of the school jerseys and the green of the school pants and football field shine bright. There are some great looking browns, reds, and sky blues here as well. Everything is perfectly saturated and balanced, giving a very pristine looking picture. During the heavier football action scenes, the picture stays sharp and vivid. I was very impressed. Skin tones are always natural and the black levels are very deep and inky. There were zero issues with banding, motion blur, aliasing, or any other kind of problem, leaving this video presentation with top notch marks.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix and it sounds amazing. Being in the sports genre, you come to expect a certain kind of sound with these films. With the big crowds cheering and all of the big and powerful sound effects that comes with them, you can rest assured that 'When The Game Stands Tall' packs the best sound it can. The sound effects are all robust and lively. You will feel every hit, tackle, and fall, like if it were happening to you in your own living room.
The roar of the crowd cheering and booing sounds full on ever speaker. You'll really feel like you are in the center of the football game. Ambient noises of vendors, whistles, and people chattering, come through nicely as well. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, or hissing. The score, while cheesy at times, still sounds great without ever drowning out any of the dialogue or very powerful sound effects. The LFE is excellent and the dynamic range is very wide, leaving this audio presentation with top marks.
Audio Commentary - Director Thomas Carter delivers the commentary track here and discusses more about the technical aspects of shooting the movie rather than the characters and themes. It is a true story after all. But the way he filmed the football scenes is incredible. That being said, this isn't the most entertaining commentary tracks I've heard.
Undefeated: Making 'When the Game Stands Tall' (HD, 13 Mins.) - Here is a better than average promo reel that features interviews with the cast and crew and the real life Coach Ladouceur. They discuss the making of the movie with a little bit of actual footage spliced in between interviews.
'When The Game Stands Tall' is a pretty terrible movie. Its acting is off key, it's long, drab, and has off beat pacing, while being a tad bit preachy. It's not on par with your favorite sports films. But the in game sequences of football were done very well, which funny enough, were it not directed by the "director" of the film. That being said, the video and audio presentations are both excellent here and the extras are mostly enjoyable. Technically, this Blu-ray is amazing. But the content is less than desired. Rent before buying.