We Are Marshall
Cast: Matthew Fox, Matthew McConaughey, David Strathairn
e Are Marshall is a football movie directed by McG. That sentence should burrow into your guts and nest in your loins. If it doesn’t, read on.
We Are Marshall is a football movie directed by McG (creator of the short-lived 2002 television show “Fastlane,” which featured Bill Bellamy as undercover police officer Deaqon “Deaq” Hayes) and based on the true story of a Marshall University football team that died in an airplane crash in 1970. In the wake of local tragedy, new coach Jack Lengyel must restore the university’s depleted program, leading the grieving West Virginian locals toward a Small Town Americana Promised Land that tastes of restored competence, cool like milk and sweet like honey. Alpha-male Matthew McConaughey shoulders this responsibility in a performance that is two parts pants-charmer and one part seer-sucking Moses.
But like Moses, Coach is ultimately unable to bring home the bacon. Marshall wins only nine games during Lengyel’s four-year tenure. This humiliating reality suits McG’s manipulative sensationalism, manifested in a litany of pungent team-spirit chants (“Earn your stripes,” one of the only surviving members of the varsity squad commands his unseasoned teammates). Thanks to unearned zeal, each and every testosterone-soaked heart-to-heart fails to inspire.
In order for We Are Marshall to provide a genuine emotional impact, it’s crucial that the filmmakers make palpable the loss incurred and pain suffered by those affiliated with the deaths. McG and company fail to do so; therefore, the story proceeds with little at stake. The artistic team should, however, be commended for servicing the relationships between the characters on the field. This admirable approach is probably a bit of a risk in such a movie. Ironically, it is these character explorations that facilitate a sap-happy schlock-fest and prohibit the film from being, well, anything more than mildly embarrassing.
We Are Marshall is at its best when, diverting from the heavy-handed messiness, it instead focuses on the field. Smarmy McConaughey generates restrained excitement and he seems to be having a genuinely good time as he blows his whistle from the sidelines, yells out indecipherable football jargon in a southern twang, and slaps some ripe 18-year-old ass.
In many ways, We Are Marshall is emblematic of the worst aspects of filmmaking. Here we have Warner Brothers exploiting an unfathomable tragedy in order to (presumably) turn a profit. If I am wrong in my presumption and it is in fact their intention to honor the memory of the students and faculty who lost their lives way back in 1970, why wait 36.9 years to do so? Tsk, tsk.
The underdog sports film has always been a viable and reliable commodity by Hollywood standards (recent successes include Friday Night Lights, Glory Road, and Invincible). We Are Marshall is one more cliché-ridden example of this trend, likely to be forgotten by all but those directly affected by the Marshall Tragedy, who would be better off pouring salt in their old wounds than have them licked by McG.
We Are Marshall is currently playing in wide release.
By: Frank Rinaldi
Published on: 2007-01-03