Nothing like a good ole fashioned game of pig skin to bring the small-town back together! That, and some random hick.
During a dark, windy and stormy night on November 14th, 1970, a flight carrying 37 members the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, as well as the coach and other personnel, suddenly crashed and killed everybody on-board. The small town that the Thundering Herd represented, not only lost most of their football team, but friends, families, neighbors, doctors, dentists and, plainly put, people that they knew and cared for. This obviously leaves the town absolutely devastated and in total shock, meaning that the football-program itself will have to be shut-down for quite some time. That is, all until a couple of players who were on the injured-reserve decide that they want their team back and irk Marshall’s president (David Strathairn), to not just find more players and more money for the team, but an actual coach that believes in them. Enter Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), the smooth, fast-talking and charming-type that’s practically able to get whatever it is that he wants, whenever he wants, due to his cool ways. However, finding players, getting together a stacked-team and being able to live up to the legacy that the original team had before they tragically passed, is a lot easier said, then actually done. But with the help of former assistant-coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox), Lengyel may have a shot at making his dreams, as well as the rest of the town’s, dreams come true.
When you see a sports drama, that’s “based on a true story”, you already know what to expect. Stirring, inspiring pep-talks; people rooting and hollering for their home-team; a lot of grown-men crying and getting upset; and finally, the one, big game that settles the score on everything. We’ve all seen it before and done a million times, but is there such a problem when that formula isn’t played with too much, but at least given some sort of subtle-nuances to make the whole thing seem slightly different? I actually don’t know and personally, that’s probably not the question I should be asking for something as simple as this.
Basically, this is, yet again, another sports movie in which we have a bunch of people looking for inspiration anywhere they can turn to, but in this case, it just so happens to be the football-field. Never understood why so many sports movies feel the need to teach us all about life through sports, as if that is the only segue into learning everything, about anything that has to do with. Sure, maybe people who watch sports love it and feel as if they are apart of something, but for those select few who can actually play sports and excel at it, feel as if they are apart of something more, leaving those other, unworthy human beings out of the equation.
Anyway, I am ranting.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s tired formula, the sports drama is, but there are the occasional moments when a movie gets it just about right to where it isn’t offensive to those who don’t play sports, but nice enough to those who do and have barley anything else to live for. But in this movie’s case, it’s battling more than just being about the sport of football. See, instead, this movie is actually dealing with some bigger themes – themes like forgiveness, guilt, moving on, depression, death, love and realizing that you can’t take anything, or anyone, for granted on this Earth, because you never know when they’re going to leave you. Yes, this movie definitely has a lot to talk about and discuss, but with McG at the helm, it’s less emotional, and more ham-handed.
McG obviously comes from the huge institution of film where the main curriculum taught is “tell, don’t show”. Doesn’t make him all that bad of an action-director, because when you want to see people beat each other up, cars chase one another, or things explode, you want to see that sort of stuff happen on-screen and not be at all implied! However, when you have an emotional-story such as this, a very true one, mind you, where subtlety is key to make us feel for everything and everyone involved with this story, you need that type of director to give us those moments that we could only get, due to the human-condition. The way a character acts, reacts or just is, is what makes this movie’s succeed in being able to tell us everything we need to know about a certain character and how exactly they are feeling.
McG, for all of his slam-bang, action-thrilling ways, sure as hell doesn’t have those types of skills in his repertoire, so instead, he just allows the actual scenes of football being played to take over and take us by storm. And for the most part, they do work as they look nice, making you feel as if you are watching people from the 70’s, play football in said decade, while also allowing you suspend your disbelief for the shortest second of time, even if you already do know what happens in the end, to these characters, to this football-team, and to everything else that surrounds it. That aspect of the movie, McG gets right, but whenever he’s called on to give us a strong, dramatic-scene filled to the core with believable, heartfelt emotion, the dude sort of drops the ball. Not because he doesn’t care for the situation most of the people were put into, but because he doesn’t really know what to do with these moments. He just wants people to get up, cheer on their home-team and hope that they forget about their own, actual lives for a short moment-in-time.
Once again, nothing wrong with that, but when you have something of a true story that’s as ripe with emotion such as this, you can’t help but feel disappointed that they couldn’t get more of a capable-director to work on this.
Dude should have just stuck with the explosions.
Rather than being able to do it himself and give us the emotionally raw and brutal feelings we need for a story like this to fully grip us and really speak volumes, McG mainly depends on the cast for this, mainly one Matthew McConaughey. I’m so happy to see that McConaughey is back in good-graces with just about every film-nerd out there nowadays, because not only has the dude been putting in great work in some god-awful stuff over the years, but he’s also been trying his hardest to at least show the world that there’s more to him than just good looks and nice, toned-body. The dude can act, and as Jack Lengyel, he gets plenty of chances to do so, mostly whenever he’s just trying to charm a person in their boots and make them see his optimistic, sunny-side-up view of everything that’s occurring. Most of what McConaughey has to work with isn’t perfect, but the dude keeps on bringing energy to the movie whenever possible and makes the movie a bit better. It’s not the most perfect performance that we’ve seen from him (especially not within the past decade), but it’s one that showed us that if you gave him a movie to lead, he could still do so. Good old boy charm and all.
The rest of the cast is pretty good, too, although it does make me sad to see that Matthew Fox maybe couldn’t have gotten the lead role in this. Sure, he may not have as much wit or as much light-heartedness as McConaughey does, but the dude is still a very solid actor and gets to show us many times here, why that is. Same goes for Anthony Mackie, playing one of the players who was originally on the injured-reserve during the crash, and gives us the most compelling, if only, memorable scene of the whole movie. Don’t necessarily want to spoil it, but when you see it, you’ll be happy to see that the dude is making good use of his many skills as an thespian. Others that are also good are David Strathairn as the stuck-up, nerdy president of Marshall who doesn’t want to give up on the program, but realizes that there is a dilemma with bringing it back, while also trying to honor those who have fatally-fallen. And Ian McShane, despite those evil, deadly eyes of his, doesn’t get quite nearly as much to do as everybody else does, and it’s a damn shame because he’s always a presence to make notice of, no matter what garbage the dude does. And he’s done plenty of that in his long career.
Consensus: Though We Are Marshall tries hard, it can’t quite get past all of the numerous conventions and clichés that the sports genre has set-in-stone for ages, and will continue to do so, even if the true stories themselves that the movies are based on, actually have emotional-resonance to them.
6 / 10 = Rental!!