If you like football movies, you’ll find plenty to like in “When the Game Stands Tall.” But this is more than a football movie, and “When the Game Stands Tall” is quite different than most football films you may have seen. It’s not about a losing team needing that one win to earn their self-respect, winning the game in the last half a second. In fact, the football field is just the stage for this collection of characters learning about hope and despair, success and failure, life and death.

“When the Game Stands Tall” is inspired by the remarkable true story of the De La Salle Spartans and their visionary coaches: Head Coach Bob Ladouceur, played by Jim Caviezel (“The Thin Red Line,” “Person of Interest”), and Assistant Coach Terry Eidson, played by Michael Chiklis (The Shield, Vegas). The team had an unprecedented 151-game winning streak between 1992-2003, shattering all records for consecutive victories in American sports. In spite of their 12 undefeated seasons (and the pressure of continuing “The Streak”), Coach Ladouceur stresses the value of purpose and significance over the glory of titles and streaks, with a focus on faith, commitment and responsibility. These traits and having a solid character, he believes, are much greater than winning. Ladouceur’s mantra: “We don’t expect you to play perfect, but to give a perfect effort.” This emphatic promotion of team play over individual goals comes to a head at one point when Ladouceur must confront a star player’s dad (Clancy Brown), who is only concerned about his son (Alexander Ludwig) breaking the touchdown record.
Ultimately, the struggle for this team – a new group of seniors – is not about winning that first game, but about not LOSING a game. When a tragedy sets the team reeling, the Spartans find their world disintegrating around them. And when their coach and mentor has a heart attack, it becomes apparent that the stress has taken a toll not only on them, but also on Ladouceur, and his wife (Laura Dern) and family, whom he’s neglected. The team has to learn to rely on each other and reevaluate what teamwork really means.
“When the Game Stands Tall” is directed by Thomas Carter (“Coach Carter,” “Hill Street Blues”), with the football action visually dynamic, and the drama textured and layered. One surprise is – given the median age of the cast – the acting is strong throughout. Jim Caviezel says he brought some of the same philosophy of Coach Ladoucuer, and how those before him have mentored him, to his interaction on the film with his young co-stars. He explained to them, “If you chose to not bring in your best work, it will look bad. I also expect you to boost each other and to work hard, and work on your scenes together, because you’re really going to carry this film.” As can be seen in the film, the results are there.
“When the Game Stands Tall” has so many layers to enjoy and reflect upon: teamwork, humility, stressed-out living, fathering, heart disease, mentoring, teaching, boys-to-men, that the actual football field becomes almost secondary. It’s not so much facing your giants on the field, but conquering them off the field that is most importance. As Ladouceur says, “Winning a lot of football games is doable. Teaching kids there’s more to life? That’s hard.”
“When the Games Stand Tall,” stands tall indeed. If you like a good football movie, you’ll like this – a good football movie… and more.


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