Subscribe
MaxSpace

When the Game Stands Tall

Hokey sports film never makes a compelling case for its own existence

By Max Weiss | August 22, 2014, 10:59 am

-Screen Gems
MaxSpace

When the Game Stands Tall

Hokey sports film never makes a compelling case for its own existence

By Max Weiss | August 22, 2014, 10:59 am

-Screen Gems

Get Baltimore Daily.

Sign up today and you'll get our latest stories delivered straight to your inbox every weekday afternoon.

When the Game Stands Tall is less a film and more a motivational video they might show at a Christian sports camp.

Watching it, I kept waiting for its point to reveal itself, for the “extraordinary true story” it was based on to come to the fore.

I’m still waiting.

It tells the story of the De La Salle High School Spartans football team which shattered all national records by winning 151 games in a row. Then they lost a game, partly because the young men on the team took the streak for granted, got cocky, and stopped playing for each other. Subsequently, the boys were taught to care about teamwork and each other more than the streak. And well…that’s it.

Okay, that flimsy and familiar premise might’ve worked if When the Game Stands Tall was also a probing character study of the team’s coach Bob Ladouceur (a forgettable Jim Caviezel). But in the film, Ladouceur is barely a character at all—just a series of platitudes about football, God (he teaches bible study at the school), brotherhood, and striving for perfection. The worst thing one can say about Ladouceur is that he cares too much—so much so that he has a heart attack from stress and overwork. This is particularly upsetting to his put-upon (but devoted, natch) wife (Laura Dern) and his football-playing son (Matthew Daddario). His younger son has zero lines of dialogue and, hilariously, is always seen clutching a trumpet.

Early in the film, we meet two outgoing seniors, T.K. (Stephan James) and Cam (Ser’Darius Blain.) They are from the inner city—we know this because every time their neighborhood is shown hip hop music blares on the soundtrack (I wish I were joking). Cam feels that he’s cursed—he’s lost most of his loved ones to violent crime, but he and T.K. are like brothers and decide to attend the University of Oregon together, both on football scholarships. Then, tragically, T.K. finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and is murdered.

Again, I expected this to be a turning point in the film. Would Coach Ladouceur take the devastated Cam into his home? Would he use T.K’s death as a way to inspire the team, highlight the fragility of life? Nope. He merely gives Cam the advice to stick to his plan and go Oregon. That’s the extent of his parental wisdom. Later, Coach Ladouceur does inspire his team, not by having an honest discussion of T.K.’s death, but by taking them to a VA hospital.

The young men on the team are a predictably bland bunch—we’ve got the cocky wide receiver/safety played by Jessie Usher. We have the fat, cheerful, virgin offensive lineman played by Joe Bassingill. We have the team’s stud runningback (Alexander Ludwig), who has the kind of abusive father who lives vicariously through his son’s on-field heroics. We have the aforementioned coach’s son, just looking for an attaboy from his dad.

In other words, a veritable scrum of clichés.

The film gets bumped half a star because the on-field action is well staged—and by far the best part of the film.

Hey, if I were Bob Ladouceur, or a member of his family, I would be thrilled with this film. It basically plays like a paean to his greatness (not only does he have a unique gift for bringing out the best in young men, he’s a tactical football genius to boot!). I can also imagine that some young athletes, especially those who haven’t seen the many sports films and TV shows that When the Game Stands Tall feels like a pale imitation of, might find it inspirational. Why the rest of us are supposed to care is never quite made clear.




Meet The Author
Max Weiss is the managing editor of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.

You May Also Like


MaxSpace

My Favorite Movies of 2017

In a year that Hollywood was rocked by scandal, great filmmaking still mattered.

Arts & Culture

Music Reviews: December 2017

The latest from Al Rogers Jr. and Micah E. Wood.

Arts District

DeWanda Wise Stars in Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It

The Woodlawn native talks about her acting journey and preparing for the role.


MaxSpace

Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Tragicomedy has some jarring tonal shifts, but at least gives us a Frances McDormand performance for the ages.

MaxSpace

Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Latest installment is tons of fun—and a fitting send off for the great Carrie Fisher.

MaxSpace

Review: Wonder Wheel

Woody Allen pays homage to the great American plays of the 1950s.

Connect With Us

Most Read


Joseph Kohl Photography Exhibit is Spontaneous and Beautiful: Maryland Historical Society celebrates one of Baltimore’s most distinctive photojournalists and artists.

Baltimore Women’s March Moves Downtown as Thousands Plan to Participate: This year’s theme encourages voter registration in 2018 elections.

Ten Incredibly Easy Ways to Be More Active in 2018: Get creative with walking meetings, workout buddies, and local sports leagues.

Ryan’s Daughter Owner Shares Fond Memories Before Closing This Weekend: Marwan Daas and his wife pay tribute to their 14-year-old Irish pub.

Baltimore is No. 15 on New York Times List of Places to Visit in 2018: Citing cultural and historical events, the newspaper puts our city in some great company.