I’m a sucker for a good sports movie, despite the fact that I’m not a very athletic person myself. Just because I’ve never played high school football doesn’t mean I’m immune to a great underdog story or the thrill and the love of the game. There have been some really good movies made about high school football that appeal to even those who were never a part of the jock mindset. At their best, those movies show everyone else why they love the game. When The Game Stands Tall doesn’t even try to sell non-football audiences. It offers many of the same exact package we’ve seen before, and it does so aggressively. If you’re not with football, you’re probably not with this movie.
When The Game Stands Tall tells a true story about the De La Salle Spartans, who are the complete opposite of underdogs – considering they had a 151-game winning streak between 1992 and 2003. Led by head coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), the De La Salle Spartans have achieved an 11-year winning streak that is the envy of the entire conference. So much, in fact, that the other teams don’t want to play them on the field, which leads to assistant coach Terry Eidson (Michael Chiklis) to announce that the Spartans will start to play teams that are bigger and stronger than theirs outside of their conference.
Just before the team is ready to start training for the season of their lives, Bob suffers a heart attack that sidelines him for most of the off-season training. As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of their players is murdered, and the team is starting to get a little hot headed. After they suffer their first loss in over a decade, the team is going to have to trust each other, as well as their faith, to help them find their way back.
When The Game Stands Tall manages to tell us a story that is not only true, but also the complete opposite of the standard sports movie. For once, we’re starting with the story of the champions who then become underdogs, which is a story that has the potential to be a gust of fresh air in the school-sports genre. Also, the fact that coach Bob Ladouceur drives his players with a strong base of faith and “perfect effort,” rather than winning for the record books, is something that also could have been used as a great foundation for an inspiring movie.
Unfortunately, When The Game Stands Tall falls flat when trying to build on the foundation that could have led to its success.
The games aren’t as thrillingly depicted as they could be, it depicts its theme of religious faith in a way that’s clumsy and sticks out, and the film is riddled with all of the clichés you could think of – without ever actually earning their inclusions. For example, there’s a violent scene where Mickey Ryan (Clancy Brown) is demanding his son, Chris (Alexander Ludwig), go out there and break the record he’s poised to break. This scene not only clashes with the film, but it also comes in during the third act as a rushed conflict. And then there’s the speeches. The film has so many of those inspirational speech moments that it feels like one, gigantic inspirational speech. A speech that fails to inspire, even though its randomly peppered inclusions of religious dogma that seem like they’re there to fulfill a quota for Sony’s faith based distribution arm, Affirm Films. My gripe isn’t that the film included these moments, it’s that they didn’t weave them well enough into the film to warrant them.
When The Game Stands Tall is a sports film that could have stood as tall as the game it exalts. Instead, it trips over itself while trying to sell its product very hard as a faith-based blockbuster. If the film integrated the faith a little better, as well as included some more lighthearted Michael Chiklis shtick to balance out Jim Caviezel’s monotone, it could have been a champion.