I think somebody’s already said this before but sports movies are basically romantic comedies for men. No matter what RomCom you watch, they rarely veer from the formula of the romantic comedy, and the same can pretty much be said for the sports movie. Most times we have a rebel sent to study under a strong coach followed by the rebel eventually changing. Nine times out of ten there’s some kind of tragedy where a teammate is injured or killed, then the rebel strays, then the rebel is redeemed and of course there’s the last second jump shot, home run at the bottom of the 9th, Hail Mary, field goal, end run, slap shot or penalty kick while the clock ticks down to triple zero. As far as I know, at least here in the USA, Rugby hasn’t gotten its chance yet and that’s where this movie ‘Forever Strong’ comes in to fill this long neglected void. It is a sports movie, it is about a cliché as it gets featuring almost all of the things mentioned above, but while I have a hard time stomaching RomCom’s I have no problem watching sports movies over and over again and I had no problem enjoying ‘Forever Strong’.
Sean Farris is Rick Penning, a bit of a jerk off high school rugby player at some prep school in Arizona, but when you compare Rick to his father / coach Richard (Neil McDonough) then he’s a virtual Nelson Mandela by comparison. Our film opens with Rick’s team doing battle with their arch rival Highland high helmed by legendary rugby coach Larry Gelwix (Gary Cole). It doesn’t take long to see what a problem child Rick can be as he lays dirty hit after dirty hit on his opponents, or what a supreme asshole his dad happens to be after he refuses to shake the hand of the opposing coach who has just taken out his team. Why won’t Richard shakes Coach Gelwix’ hand? Hmm….. could there be a history there?
Next time we see Rick he’s drinking it up at the after party. I was curious as to whether losing teams should have an after party, but that’s just me thinking out loud.
This leads to Rick doing his second favorite thing behind playing rugby, and that would be drinking and driving, which leads to him getting into a pretty serious car accident and landing him in juvenile detention, miles away from his parents, with the possibility of him going to big boy jail if he doesn’t show the judge that he’s changed his ways.
Rick apparently wasn’t paying attention to what the judge had to say because he becomes an even worse asshole in juvie, but the guy running this joint, Marcus (Sean Astin), sees something worth saving in the boy. Just so happens that he’s not too far from Highland and Coach Gelwix, who has made it his personal mission to save young men, and while Rick is completely uncooperative to begin with, eventually Gelwix’ message of pride, hard work, responsibility and accountability begin to take hold.
Of course now he’s playing for the arch enemy which isn’t going to go over all that well with dad or his former teammates. We do have some tragedies to deal with, a pretty girl to meet, the redeemed hero must fall, the fallen hero must rise, and of course it’s gotta come down to a last second something with the clock ticking down to triple zero. You know the routine.
That last second ‘something’ is one of the problems I had with ‘Forever Strong’, but not the fact that it comes down to the last seconds but the fact that I don’t know what the terminology is for the score. Not that I want the movie to be a rugby procedural primer, but the sport is fairly foreign to me so just a little description here and there to help the uninitiated have a working understanding of what we were watching on the field would’ve been nice. I did figure a ‘touchdown’ is five points and a ‘field goal’ is still three. I also didn’t care for the way director Ryan Little shot the action with his camera often far to too close to see what was happening, the action artificially sped up to create a false sense of speed, with these problems compounded by not completely understanding the rules of the game.
Those problems aside ‘Forever Strong’ is practically a prototype production of a sports movie. Our cast understands completely what kind of movie that they are in and play their roles accordingly. While I might not have cared for Mr. Little’s shooting of the action, he handled the dramatic scenes quite well as scenes were packed with emotion and had characters that you cared for and also had actors that had the ability to make the characters they were portraying actual characters, and not just the caricatures which you often find in a sports movie. At least for the most part. The actors playing Rick’s former teammates probably took the asshole thing slightly over the top, and I was curious how these kids could drink as much as they did and do as many drugs as they did and still manage to function as a national rugby power. Also Neil McDonough’s coach Penning might be a ‘bit’ of a caricature as he was cold to point of not being believable, but Mr. McDonough is a good enough actor to almost pull it off.
No doubt, ‘Forever Strong’ was predictable as expected, and it is filled to the brim with cliché aplenty, but it was still quite entertaining and featured a solid message which even found a way to sprinkle in a little spirituality in the process.