Sometimes our greatest tragedies drive us on to our greatest victories. That principle lies at the heart of Vince Papale’s journey from being a down-on-his-luck blue collar worker to one of Philadelphia’s hometown heroes. His story is the latest in a long, fine tradition of Disney based-on-a-true-story inspirational sports films, but there’s nothing run of the mill about it. Full of heart and powerful emotion, Invincible is feel-good drama at its finest.
In 1976 Vince Papale was barely scraping together an existence. Trying desperately to make a living in South Philadelphia as a bartender and part-time school teacher, he struggled just to pay the rent. He wasn’t the only one. Many people in the city were careworn, trying to get by. Even the city’s football team was in a miserable situation. The Eagles were coming off a long string of losing seasons, offering their fans little joy or escape from their strained lives.
The new head coach of the Eagles, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), faces a tough situation of his own. In hopes of generating some renewed excitement in the city he announces an NFL first, open tryouts for the next season. Trying to generate some renewed excitement of his own, Papale (Mark Wahlberg), at the urging of his friends, decides to try out. Much to his surprise, he gets an invitation to training camp and a long shot opportunity to make the team. His hopes, the hopes of his friends, his team and his entire city hang in the balance, all depending on him to lead them to a victory, on the field and in the heart.
The fact that it’s based on a true story isn’t what makes the film inspirational, and the sports angle isn’t what does the trick either. This is good old-fashioned film storytelling at its finest. More than a story about a man trying to become a professional football player, it’s one of an entire city looking for a reason to make it through a difficult time in its history. Kinnear and Wahlberg turn in stellar dramatic performances, but as the leads they’re only part of the picture. The movie is much more of an ensemble film than it might appear in the credits, and it’s the full cast that really makes the movie sparkle.
While the acting and storytelling make the movie great, it’s the fine points that make it fantastic. A perfectly blended mix of seventies music with a brilliantly understated score by Mark Isham create a wonderful audio backdrop. The cinematography has a classic muted color tone characteristic of seventies photography. Every shot has a story to tell and a mood to convey, making it easy to loose yourself in the superb craftsmanship of the film.
Best of all, each moment in the movie feels genuine. There’s no stooping for pity or cheap ploys for excitement. You feel the heaviness of each personal defeat and every victory elicits an authentic desire to stand up and cheer. On nearly every level Invincible is easily one of the better films made this year, even if the fact that its about football keeps it out of contention for any major awards.
Just like today’s sport of football, the DVD for Invincible relies heavily on commentary to add to the experience. Two commentarys make up the bulk of the bonus items with a thirty minute featurette on the life of Vince Papale rounding out the deal.
Commentary number one features producer Mark Ciardi, writer Brad Gann and Vince Papale himself. Their discussions focus mainly on the story, adding color and trivia tidbits along the way. At one point, as he watches the finale of the film, Papale audibly tears up while talking about one of the more emorional moments in the story. If you’re looking for a lively discussion, this is the commentary for you.
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in the sets, cinematography and acting choices, you’re better off listening to the second commentary which includes director Ericson Core and editor Jerry Greenberg. They have a lot of interesting things to say, but if their conversation was any more monotone they could sell it as a cure for insomnia.
The featurette attached, Becoming Invincible: The Vince Papale Story is a two part piece that explores both how Papale rose to fame and how the movie came to be made. It’s a rapid fire trip down memory lane followed by a quick look behind the scenes of making the film. This isn’t really the kind of movie where I’m dying to get a deeper look, but Papale fans and football fans might be a little disappointed that there isn’t more.
The menus are simple and the previews for other movies abundant, leading me to believe that this DVD was packaged quickly, intended specifically for those last minute holiday shoppers. Nevertheless, if you haven’t seen the movie, rent or pick up a copy and take it in. It’s well worth your time.