When the Game Stands Tall
by Hope Madden
The last time director Thomas Carter made a feature film, it was the inspiring true story of high school coach Ken Carter who, though leading an undefeated team, believed there was something more important to the future of his players than winning.
The filmmaker’s next effort really shows his range – because that movie was about basketball.
When the Game Stands Tall is the true story of Bob Ladouceur, probably the greatest high school football coach in history. He led his La De Salle Spartans to an unprecedented, quite likely unbreakable 151 game winning streak.
Carter is not known for his light hand at the helm. Indeed, this film has as manipulative and leading a score as anything since Remember the Titans, and the similarities don’t begin or end there. But he deserves credit for situating his story where he does, not focusing on the obvious victories, but mining the team’s more challenging, less glamorous time for the values that transcend the sport.
Jim Caviezel plays Ladouceur as a stoic, noble, righteous soul – because that is all Jim Caviezel is capable of. Luckily enough, it generally suits the role and he has other actors to appear humanlike around him.
The performances skirt cliché but are handled admirably. Laura Dern is the loving, ignored and concerned wife. Matthew Daddario is the coach’s son who just wants his dad’s approval, while Alexander Ludwig is the teammate whose volatile father only loves his son for the vicarious glory and accolades. It all sounds eerily familiar.
Carter also provides plenty of on-field play, and does a fine job of lensing it, though cinematic gridiron action may never look better than it did in Friday Night Lights. But that’s an altogether superior film. By comparison, When the Game Stands Tall looks downright naïve in its portrayal of athlete lives off the field, where they drink soda from bottles and make promise pledges with their chaste girlfriends in a town where fans are exclusively positive.
It’s an exceedingly passable product of a threadbare formula. It might even be enjoyable if Caviezel could muster the charisma necessary to carry the film. Unfortunately, Caviezel is no Sam Jackson or Billy Bob Thornton – and he sure as hell is no Denzel Washington- so his film feels more junior varsity than it might.