“When the Game Stands Tall” has all the makings of a late-summer hit. It’s the kind of movie that makes you feel good while crying at the same time. “When the Games Stands Tall” is the story of the De La Salle High School football team, which won 151 consecutive games from 1992 to 2004. Had director Thomas Carter, whose film is based on the book by Neil Hayes, simply chronicled the Streak, as it was known, it would have been one win after another. It” has all the makings of a late-summer hit. It’s the kind of movie that makes you feel good while crying at the same time.
Set for release just as the high school football season begins, “When the Game Stands Tall” focuses on the legendary coach Bob Ladoucer (Jim Caviezel), who led the De La Salle Spartans of Northern California to an incredible winning streak — 151 games, the longest in history.
Oddly enough, as the movie shows, Ladoucer wasn’t as interested in continuing the winning streak as he was in promoting brotherhood, love, faith and responsibility among his football players. Or as Ladoucer’s wife, Bev (Laura Dern), puts it, he’s trying to turn the students into men, not sports stars.
The movie has thrilling footage of some of those games, and it’s impossible not to root for the Spartans. But most of the film focuses on a period of struggle — shortly after one of the team’s star players is the victim of a shooting, the day before he was planning to leave for a full scholarship at the University of Oregon. And during that summer, another tragedy strikes: The coach has an unexpected health crisis.
At first, the coach is told to stay away from his high-pressure job, and the duties are handed over to an assistant coach, Terry Edison (Michael Chiklis). And as the new season begins, it’s clear that the team hasn’t recovered from the summer’s troubles. The winning streak comes to an end, and they lose two games in a row.
What follows is an inspiring tale of getting back to the roots of teamwork, of opening up about your feelings, of realizing that your teammates are more important than any individual glory. These lessons are personified by the team’s top player, Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig), who is poised to break the record for the number of touchdowns scored. His pushy father (Clancy Brown) thinks breaking the record is a must. Ladoucer, of course, thinks Ryan should put his team first. Conflict ensues.
The football scenes, and the team’s inevitable comeback, make for much drama. But some critics will point out that “When the Game Stands Tall” has a bit too much drama. Every scene, every conversation, is filled with epiphanies and heart-to-heart revelations. And if you’re trying not to cry, you’re going to be a bit irritated that director Thomas Carter, an Austin native, pulls at your heartstrings almost nonstop.
It’s emotionally exhausting. Just when you think the story has climaxed, another climax comes along, then another.
Whatever your response, the football action scenes are expertly choreographed, with inventive camera angles, an on-the-field feel and a lot of visceral action. For most people, that’ll be enough.