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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 Lybarger

"McG achieves coherence. In other news, Hell freezes over."
3 stars

“We Are Marshall” is both better than it has a right to be and still feels somewhat disappointing. It’s easy to walk into the movie with low expectations because it’s directed by McG, the fellow who gave us both “Charlie’s Angels” and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.” Neither of these flicks had the coherent storytelling or emotional weight that’s required for this fact-based tale.

On November 14, 1970, a chartered jet carrying most of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, their coaches, their radio sportscaster, the athletic director and even some eager fans crashed just seconds away from the local airport at Huntington, W.Va. Approximately 75 people died that night.

The only coach who decided not to take the flight, Red Dawson (Matthew Fox, “Lost”), is racked with guilt and has given up on football altogether. He’s not alone. One of the university’s board members, Paul Griffen (Ian McShane, “Deadwood”) lost his son in the crash and thinks re-establishing a football team would be an insult to the fallen.

Nonetheless, the students are adamant about putting together a team, even though the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) won’t allow them to play freshmen, and no sane coach would take the job.

That may be why only Jack Lengyel (played with appropriate eccentricity by Matthew McConaughey) is willing to take the job. He spouts off a bunch of weird psychobabble and admits he has trouble with names.

Nonetheless, there is something inherently compelling about the way Lengyel assembles a team that can’t possibly hold a winning record. While he’d later be recognized as a great coach, Lengyel probably knew that simply rebuilding a team was a significant challenge. For the most part, McG handles the subject matter with a surprising sensitivity. The plane crash and its aftermath are depicted with remarkable restraint.

The movie also benefits from David Strathairn’s performance as Donald Dedmon, Marshall’s beleaguered president. Most movies of this sort usually focus only on the players and the coaches, but the bureaucratic hurdles that Dedmon had to deal with were Herculean. Strathairn is typically fine as a man who sacrifices his career for a game he barely understands.

Visually, McG comes up with several impressive shots, including a few where we see action through a window and an actor’s reaction in the reflection. It’s refreshing to see he can stage something other than explosions.

The film’s first half plays better than its conclusion. Lengyel and Dawson were consultants on the film (the real Dawson appears briefly as a rival coach), and their characters are sufficiently vivid. Griffen and his late son’s fiancée Kate Mara, are composites, and it shows.

Both characters feel a little too sketchy. Years after Lengyel and Dawson left the team, Marshall became a football powerhouse, so it’s understandable that some people might not want to be seen opposing its rebirth.

Still, like the team it depicts, “We Are Marshall” earns points and deserves considerable credit for trying. Note: This review originally ran in County Cable (

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originally posted: 01/19/07 14:11:17
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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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