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Overall Rating

Awesome: 2.44%
Worth A Look: 31.71%
Pretty Bad: 14.63%
Total Crap: 14.63%

6 reviews, 5 user ratings

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We Are Marshall
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by Erik Childress

"We Are McC and McG – Only One Of Us Has Talent"
2 stars

“With all these teams flying all over the place, wouldn’t you think there’d be a plane crash.” The ever insensitive George Costanza probably never followed college football, because tragedy did strike Marshall University in 1970 when a charter plane carrying their team and coaches crashed with no survivors. History did not write the most glorious of inspirational comebacks for this community, which fought on despite having the worst collective record of any school during that decade. Something the film version of this story reminds us of though is how winning isn’t everything. An interesting theme to have considering how little it does to win our hearts and minds through one of the most ineptly crafted underdog tales in some time.

Beginning on the eve of the crash, Marshall has just lost another game and their coach’s (Robert Patrick) idea of inspiration is to remind them that no one remembers how they play the game, only what the outcome was. Assistant coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) gets the Waylon Jennings award for switching seats with another to take a recruiting trip on his way home by car. As word comes in about the crash, nearly the whole town floods the fire scene. They include University President Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn), Paul Griffen (Ian MacShane) whose son was on the team and engaged to pretty Annie Cantrell (Kate Mara) and Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie) whose shoulder injury kept him from making the trip with the team.

Sending an understandable shock wave through the area, Marshall decides to suspend the football program leaving before Ruffin leads a campaign to keep it going. Despite no one up to the challenge of coaching up the team (probably due more to their non-winning ways then the pressure of being a savior), President Dedmon gets a call from Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey). He’s not alumni and his interview suggests the attention span of a mental patient. Lengyel wins him over though, convinces Red to be his assistant for a year and they set off desperately to rebuild a team against rival recruiters from West Virginia and the NCAA rules that Freshmen are ineligible to play.

Even by accident, this is a tale that should work when pumped with just the right blend of Hollywood cliché and tear-coaxing moments of revelation. We Are Marshall has been directed though by the ADD-infected McG of Charlie’s Angels infamy, whose attention to detail is so specific it’s like he believes we are similarly afflicted. Granted, even lesser hacks would have trouble making Jamie Linden’s screenplay float, but I never thought it was possible to blow every big inspirational moment. Maybe because they are all the same. I mean, how many times can we see the entire town gather together for a big reveal just as the story’s doubters need them to? (The answer is three.) One sees McG flipping off the teacher of his film class about visual stimulation as he focuses on one silent character’s beer so vociferously to remind us of who he is – only for us to be mistaken that what he’s really doing is showing us he’s never opened the pack he bought the night of the crash. This is all after his prolonged staging of the tragic aftermath, putting so much time on his big reveal of the moment that it becomes less about the proverbial bagged cat and all about how we already know what item is going to be used to confirm the disaster.

McConaughey goes a long way to try and save this film from itself, continuing his history of oddball characters who swoop in to add life from Dazed and Confused to Reign of Fire. With his crooked mouth and cockeyed delivery, it’s a really charming performance that slowly gets engulfed down the path of Linden’s cockeyed script. The victory for this school and this community is getting the team back on the field – and THAT big moment comes before the half-hour mark. It can never be about winning, which in the cynic’s eye is what losers say. But a team that goes 9-33 under the reign of their new coach shouldn’t be ending like every other sports film with a miraculous pass in the end zone. It was OK to fudge the facts a bit for Vince Papale’s big TD run at the end of the other green-uniformed underdog story this year, Invincible, because that was about one guy’s achievement. We Are Marshall is about a whole team, a whole school, a whole town. Not a touchdown and certainly not the first of two wins in their comeback season.

No one wants to be insensitive to those who have first-hand knowledge of this event, but its impossible not to wince as one player on the plane says how he wishes he hadn’t given up the cross around his neck or the play-by-play callously announcing his confusion, “there are just so many new faces on this Marshall team.” McG wants to tell a four-pronged story through the eyes of the two coaches, the widowed father and the injured defenseman. Lengyel is colorful but stands out more as a caricature who delivers the lamest of metaphors like Confucious’ hillbilly cousin instead of someone along the lines of Hackman’s Norman Dale from Hoosiers. Red suppresses his grief and we never get a handle on what he’s all about. McShane’s dad gets to disapprove of the rebirth when he needs to and finds a surrogate daughter in Mara, who gets the unsubstantiated privilege of narrating the story. And Mackie’s “friendship” with the grieving player (Brian Geraghty), whose great pain is that he overslept, belongs somewhere on Brokeback Mountain.

I was only a few hours removed from writing my Rocky Balboa review when I watched We Are Marshall. As I wrote then, Rocky was never about winning. In the twenty-plus years the Marshall program had (including this period) in the below .500 realm, surely some philosophy of comraderie had to exist to keep them going through the rough times. (As a lifelong Cubs fan, I could relate.) If the team’s success is measured on the high note we leave the theater on as we’re informed of the school finally winning consistently a decade-and-a-half later. That’s something nearly any franchise could boast as part of their history and does nothing to spark the Herculean task of picking up the pieces after 1970; a task McG is not the least bit up to. Think of what the New Orleans Saints are doing just two years removed from Hurricane Katrina. When I think of inspirational moments of Marshall, none other comes to mind than the moment watching the game when quarterback Byron Leftwich with a broken shin led his team to a comeback as his players would carry him down the field in-between downs during the final seconds. The makers of We Are Marshall don’t even recognize that as the symbolic image of that team and only lingers on it for about 1.6 seconds during the closing montage. A director with that kind of attention span has no business making a film about football. Or people.

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originally posted: 12/22/06 16:23:41
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User Comments

1/14/09 Shaun Wallner Very Interesting 3 stars
11/26/08 jsmith It's a true story, underplayed for the most part, which keeps it as real as possible 4 stars
7/06/07 Quigley One of the most moving sports films I've ever seen. 5 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Get past tragedy, it's like every other true sports flick. Call it "Gridiron Pang." 3 stars
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  22-Dec-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 18-Sep-2007



Directed by

Written by
  Jamie Linden

  Matthew McConaughey
  Matthew Fox
  David Strathairn
  Ian McShane
  Anthony Mackie
  Brian Geraghty

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