Every so often, a feel good sports film comes along and reminds us all that teamwork and camaraderie are the only ways to accomplish any endeavor worth accomplishing. Also, in most films that fits into this genre, there is always a central leadership figure who takes it upon themselves to instill values into young men that will make them better adults. What sports fans doesn’t get a little misty eyed at Remember the Titans, Coach Carter and even Hoosiers? With When the Game Stands Tall, we have a litany of positive themes that would make one believe that the film was simply a hodge-podge of the aforementioned films as tragedy, immaturity, on field adversity and off the field decision making are all woven into the tapestry of When the Game Stands Tall. However, unlike some of the other films in this genre, the head coach has a lesson to learn as well.
Starring Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis, Alexander Ludwig and Clancy Brown, When the Game Stands Tall is based upon the true story of Coach Bob Ladouceur and the De La Salle High School Spartans high school football team. The team rose from obscurity to win a record 151 straight games. However, just as the kids start believing things were going to get a little easier, things immediately get a whole heck of a lot harder. Unlike Remember the Titans and Hoosiers, When the Game Stands Tall does not feature a racial element against the competitors nor does one appear to threaten the dynamic of the team. From a team sports perspective, the squad at De La Salle high school is as harmonious a team from a racial and socio-economic standpoint as one could ever hope or dream.
However, an ego problem does begin to develop with several of the younger characters in the midst of the team’s record breaking win streak. In addition, there’s the “Golden Boy” dynamic of a talented young man who has to deal with an overbearing, win or don’t come home father breathing down his neck. Also, there’s the “hood” dynamic of several talented gentlemen who make a pact to use football as a conduit to get out of the hood. Then, like Hoosiers, When the Game Stands Tall features the David versus Goliath dynamic as well as the team has to play a powerhouse Long Beach Poly that is stacked with top-level Division I players. Though these themes have been apparent in other films, not once did I get the impression that When the Game Stands Tall was the least bit cliché.
Also, the role of Bob Ladouceur, played by Jim Caviezel, wasn’t some messianic coaching figure. He was a man, an imperfect man who needed assistance in overcoming his own demons as well. When the Game Stands Tall is the most realistically interpreted sports film that I’ve seen in years.
The Shadow League gives When the Game Stands Tall a solid B.