Thursday, December 28, 2006

We Are Marshall

In 1970, a plane crash claimed the lives of 75 people made up of players, coaches and fans of Marshall University's football team. This was the worst disaster in sports history. Not only are the families devastated but it leaves Marshall University and the entire town of Huntington W. Virginia with a loss many thought would never be overcome. "We Are Marshall" is the story of how rebuilding a team could heal a town. As long as there are real life inspirational sports stories, Hollywood will keep turning them into movies. "We Are Marshall" joins the "A" list of films like "Hoosiers" or "Rudy". As with those films, it is inspirational and heartfelt and filled with time worn clichés and stock characters. What sets it apart is the tragic story that sets up the the comeback.

Many films like this one start out with the words "inspired by true events" or "based on real events". "Marshall" starts out with "this is a true story". Since that is the case, it's really hard to criticize the story. What is fair game are the performances of the actors, which is always tough when they are portraying real people. Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, the coach hired by Marshall to rebuild the team. Unless we know the real Jack Lengyel, we can only assume his performance is honest. One annoying trait was talking out of the side of his mouth. If that was his own invention, he would have been better served without it. Matthew Fox has a very emotional role as Red Dawson, a surviving coach, and basically plays his TV character, Jack, the tortured doctor from "Lost" with red hair. Ian McShane, in a complete reversal of his "Deadwood" character, plays a grieving father, representing the grief of the entire town.

If you are a fan of these types of films, it has everything you look for, including a groovy '70's soundtrack played over montage after montage of team rebuilding, the injured player who just won't quit, and of course, the coaches' speech before the "big game". It took years for Marshall to be a competitive football team again but eventually they did, going on to have many championship seasons. Even though you recognize the clichés, you can't help but be moved by the story.

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