Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Football, my friends, is the greatest of all sports, and you will never be able to argue this with me otherwise.  Oh the hours I have spent listening to my Old Dude’s tales of his college football conquests as an all America tight end at Lincoln University back in the 60’s.  Or his insistence that some guy named Willie Gallimore is the best running back the NFL has ever seen.  My older brother was quite the football stud himself in the one year of high school ball he played, but never quite had the passion for the sport.  Just as well or I’d be stuck listening to his college stories as well.  Sadly, athletic ability skipped this son, though I did play, and considering what I was working with, didn’t play that badly either.  My Dad, this past holiday while commenting on my football prowess said my game was similar to Rudy in that I had a lot of heart.  To which I had to let him, and the listening audience know, that I was a little better than Rudy now.

Normally you can’t go to terribly wrong with a football movie either as I have commented previously.  With exception of the ‘Longest Yard’ remake and probably ‘Air Bud: Golden Receiver’ most football movies are palatable, and that includes Keanu Reaves in the ‘Replacements’ or ‘Unnecessary Roughness’.  This is not to say that the bio flick ‘We Are Marshall’ isn’t palatable, because it’s quite palatable.  But it probably won’t go down as one of the better sports movies made however.

‘We are Marshall’ chronicles the tragic death by plane crash of most of the Marshall Football team, coaching staff, fans and boosters back in 1970.  The only survivors were four injured players who didn’t make the trip and coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) who gave his plane seat up to another coach.  An event this tragic, in a town

small as Huntington West Virginia where everyone knows everyone, and everyone is connected to the football program in one way or another is simply unfathomable.  Even though there was a palpable dread in knowing that this was going to happen as we meet the players and coaches on the team, director McG wasn’t able to convey, at least to my satisfaction, the absolute grief that the town and it’s residents must have experienced after this horrific tragedy.

School President Donald Dedmon (David Strathiarn) on a recommendation from the school board elects to suspend the program after the tragedy, but star cornerback Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie) rallies the school into holding off on that and the search begins to revive the Marshall program.  Considering the tragedy, finding a coach was difficult, but one man comes forward, Wooster College coach (where my mom was a professor) Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) assumes the reigns and begins the process of assembling a team despite the misgivings of some in the town, his assistant coach Red Dawson, and members of the school board.  Will Coach Lengyel be able to assemble a team in time, and will he be able to win over the grief stricken town of Huntington West Virginia?  We will see.

Actor Anthony Mackie is pretty damn good in everything I’ve seen him in, with the probable exception of the horrible basketball movie ‘Crossover’.  His performance as cornerback Nate Ruffin, and his relentless pursuit to resurrect a team that he feels was personally left to him is Academy worthy.  Other notable performances includes the great actor Ian McShane of ‘Deadwood’ fame as the steel mill operator and school board heavy who loses his son in the tragedy, and T-1000 himself Robert Patrick as late head coach Rick Tolley who came off quite legitimately as a football coach.  I mention Robert Patrick’s performance as a the coach because probably the main failing of ‘We Are Marshall’ from my vantage point is its lead Matthew McConaughey as Coach Lengyel.  There was something insincere and annoying that flowed across in McConaughey’s delivery, and though he was convincing enough as a football coach, he wasn’t convincing as a football coach I’d actually want to play for.  The easy going slickness in McConaughey’s personality that he has displayed in romantic comedies such as ‘Failure to Launch’ and ‘How to lose a guy in ten days’, as well as in interviews that has works so well for him and made the man rich beyond comprehension simply comes across here as the dude in ‘Dazed and Confused’ who decides to be a football coach.  Would you place your struggling football program in that guys hands, I don’t think so.  When McConaughey gives his big Gipper speech at the Marshall gravesite, I wasn’t moved at all.  When Will Patton in ‘Remember the Titans’ tells his team ‘Make sure they remember FOREVER, the day the played the Titans’ I was moved.  When The Rock of all people delivers his speech to his band young criminals in ‘Gridiron Gang’ I was moved, even when Al Pacino gives his speech to Jamie Foxx in ‘Any given Sunday’, I was summarily moved.  In ‘We are Marshall’ I was just hoping McConaughey would get it over with so we could get the big game and the inevitable big play which will no doubt countdown to triple zero.

This isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, though does run a bit long at two plus hours.  But considering the subject matter, it just seems that it could have, and should have been so much more.  The seventy five that died that day in November deserved better treatment that what was given to us in ‘We Are Marshall’.

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