Sunday, December 17, 2006

We Are Marshall

Faced with an uninspiring slate of movies this weekend, I looked to an unlikely source to peak my interest ... McG. After some arm-twisting from me, we skipped the new releases and instead went to a sneak preview of "We Are Marshall."

Now, I don't have the animosity that many people harbor against this rather freakishly named director (but seriously, if your childhood nickname just made you sound like an idiot, would you keep it all your life?) I didn't bother with either of the "Charlie's Angels" flicks, so this was in fact my first experience with the man.

And I'm kinda glad I finally met him. "We Are Marshall" is, by force, really two movies in one: It's at once about dealing with incredible grief while also being about building a college football program from the ground up.

And on the latter, at least, it's fairly successful. For anyone who doesn't know the story, and McG wisely assumes that people will do a little reading before going into this one, it's about the 1970 Marshall football team and the plane crash that killed every member of it, along with coaches, pilots and everyone else on board. And more importantly, it's about what happened afterward.

After the crash, which is thankfully avoided except for some seriously shaky camera work as the wreckage is discovered, the school considers suspending the football program, a perfectly sane choice given the circumstances. Into this sad situation steps Matthew McConaughey, in the first performance from him I've liked since, well, "Dazed and Confused" (and thankfully, despite being decked out in 70s attire, he doesn't offer any creepy lines about high school girls here.) As Jack Lengyel, the only coach willing to take on this thankless task, he's obviously more than little off-kilter, and he convinces you that he just might pull this off.

And the rebuilding goes on at a brisk, albeit cliche-ridden, pace. Fans of college football will enjoy it, so McG can at least be credited for hitting his target audience. It's filled with visual clues - the crowd swelling through Huntington on game day, a funny and touching visit to Bobby Bowden (played by Mike Pniewski) - that give you a proper sense of time and place.

And, thankfully, this isn't really a traditional sports underdog movie. Though we do see Marshall entering the next season, there's little of the flashy camera work you might expect from a music-video director. If you're not cheering for Marshall, I don't know why you'd wanna see the movie, but McG doesn't force your hand.

So, thus far, we've got a pretty good college football movie, right? So where does it go wrong? Well, Mr. McG clearly doesn't have the ability to portray people really dealing with grief, so he mostly doesn't even try.

In that half we get a series of clipped-short scenes, woeful speeches and tears. Lots of tears, but none that carry much meaning. The worst of it is handed to Ian McShane from "Deadwood," who is forced to jump through every grieving cliche hoop with the same dour expression for the whole movie (and carry on a fairly creepy relationship with his dead son's fiancee, played by Kate Mara.)

It's this failure to give us any real emotional connection to any characters that will, I think, doom McG's flick in its box-office bout. Two sports underdog movies in one week is already dicey, but when you're taking on a known, albeit geriatric, commodity like Rocky, you need your A-game, if I may trot out a cliche of my own. And this one is a C+ to B- at best.


Anonymous said...

I like Helen Mirren especially in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. I also Liked the her in Prime Suspect Series!

I should perhaps see "We Are Marshall" on DVD.

Reel Fanatic said...

I can't recommend it for any more than that I'm afraid, Tameshk

Anonymous said...

i'm going to have to hope you're wrong about this, because i can't wait to see this movie.

i absolutely love that they premiered it in huntington. but i'm sappy like that :)

Reel Fanatic said...

I've certainly been wrong about many movies before, KKT, so this one may well fall in that category .. If you have more of a connection to Marshall or Huntington than I do, you may well feel a deeper connection to this flick

Linda said...

I also saw a sneak preview of this last night, and I thought the emotional element was spot on. This must have been a tough story to tell. Not a geat film, but it worked for me. I really like McG's style.

Anonymous said...

It's this failure to give us any real emotional connection to any characters that will, I think, doom McG's flick in its box-office bout.

I have to disagree. There are many reasons that the film will underperform at the box office -- widespread competition being the main one -- but I was drawn to multiple characters, the ones played by Kate Mara, Anthony Mackie, and Matthew Fox. Also loved the Bobby Bowden scene.

I've also seen Rocky Balboa, which has its moments and fiercely independent '70s pace, but I preferred this one.

Reel Fanatic said...

I knew this one would provoke some dissent from my view ... I have to say I'm surprised you found this better than Rocky Balboa, Neel, but I'll be finding out about that one myself soon enough

Anonymous said...

I might see the movie on DVD. Having seen the trailer, some of the cliches you mention were pretty obvious.
Just curious about what you think about Matthew McConaughey? I remember when he was supposed to be real hot back then, now he seems to be mostly seen in second tier movies, if I may use that term.
Liked your review.

Anonymous said...

I prefer baseball movies as a rule. Thanks for the review.

Reel Fanatic said...

I think McConaughey has been coasting for years on his designation as one of People's sexiest folks, or whatever that list is called, Sanjay, and been doing mostly romantic comedies or the like ... I really liked him quite a bit in this one, though, because he just seemed to really be into the project

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess this is McG's way of showing the world that he's graduating to 'serious' directing. He's moved up from Mariah Carey booty videos to cliche-filled biopics. I suppose that's an improvement...on some level.

Maybe in another ten years he'll be able to eek out something slightly better than mediocre.

Reel Fanatic said...

Considering what's come before, Lori, I do have to concede this is a big step forward for him ... I don't expect his Citizen Kane to come anytime soon, but I guess you never know

Marina said...

I'm actually a little interested to see this one simply because I really like Matthew Fox (and no, I don't watch Lost. Go figure). It may not be a total loss after all.

Reel Fanatic said...

He has some good moments, Marina .. I did enjoy the interaction between the coaches in this one

Anonymous said...

Methinks a claw hammer to the scrotum would be more fun than sitting through any McConaughey movie that ain't DAZED AND CONFUSED. That said, good, balanced review.

Anonymous said...

Crosby Stills Nash & Young music was great. So why wasn't their hit "Carry On" included? The song is aligned perfectly with the movie ....with no other choice we carry on with life.

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