Winning is fun, but relentless winning is hardly dramatic. There’s nothing to overcome. There’s no story there.
Neil Hayes’ book, “When the Game Stands Tall,” about the record-shattering 151-game win streak by De La Salle, a private Catholic high-school football team in Concord, Calif., is mostly about its 2002 season. But Hayes includes an epilogue about the 2004 team that finally lost a game. (To Bellevue, by the way, at Qwest Field.)
So that’s what the movie focuses on: losing, and how you recover from it.
There are some good internal contradictions to mine here. Winning, for coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), is a byproduct of playing the game right (humility, teamwork, etc.); but glory, humility’s opposite, is a byproduct of winning all the time.
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So how do you keep egos in check when you never lose? When does the byproduct of playing the game right cause you to play the game wrong?
Sadly, the movie dramatizes all of this with reductive situations and stock characters: the me-first, team-last dude (Jessie Usher) who is cured like that by a trip to a VA hospital; the glory-seeking father in the stands (Clancy Brown, the prison guard in “The Shawshank Redemption”). Neither rabid fans nor the probing media help.
First-half subplots — Ladouceur’s heart attack, a senseless murder — are more-or-less forgotten in the second. Caviezel’s Ladouceur is sourly inscrutable, his talks with his wife (Laura Dern) are dull business, and the grace moment at the end is hardly graceful.
The movie raises religious and philosophical questions about whether what we put out in the world is returned to us, but it sticks with the ultimate American answer: There is no problem so great that winning a football game won’t solve it.
Erik Lundegaard: firstname.lastname@example.org