When The Game Stands Tall… Why It’s Not Just About Football

Based on the true story of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) and the De La Salle High School Spartans, “When the Game Stands Tall” is a film adaptation of the book written by Neil Hayes.

Let me start off by saying that this film is actually the best faith-based film I have seen in some time and probably the best sports film I have seen in recent years too. While it has some weaknesses, I believe that “When the Game Stands Tall” accomplishes what it sets out to do — inspire.

The game
In this Sony-distributed film directed by Thomas Carter, “When the Game Stands Tall” is set in the private Catholic school for boys known for their 151-game winning streak between 1992 and 2003,which shattered all records for any American sport. The story follows the De La Salle community in light of several tragedies striking in the 2004 season: a heart attack, murder and shocking defeat.

Producer David Zelon discusses his initial discovery of the remarkable story: “I was hooked,” Zelon stated in an interview. “The thing was, I’d never seen this kind of approach to a team anywhere. Ladouceur wasn’t about winning. No yelling and slamming clipboards down. He was about developing these boys into great young men. So I thought, let’s show everybody how they did it.”

The review
The weakest parts of “When the Game Stands Tall” are the loose ends the audience is left with as the credits roll. Elements of loss and God’s presence in the midst of suffering are explored but simply do not reach a proper conclusion. As Elizabeth Rogawski commented, “It has some great premises but does not always deliver.”

Certainly, what I see as being the best part of the film is how it really takes the sports genre and turns it on its head. Typically, a sports movie focuses around an underdog that must overcome obstacles. What we have here is a team that is already on top. This story is about a champion’s fall from grace and their journey back to finding themselves. De La Salle must struggle within its own family to learn what a family actually is, what is truly important in life, and how football relates to these things.

This is best characterized in the final moments of the film, when the characters come to fully realize along with the audience that it was never about the winning “streak.” No, it is about the brother standing next to you. It’s about the respect of a mentor and coach. It’s about growing up, forgiveness, and commitment. It’s about always giving your best in life for the sake of others. As the film expresses, “Don’t let a game define who you are. Let the way you live your lives do that.” It’s about standing tall.

Faith & Identity
Was this a “Christian movie”? I’m not sure how to answer that. Oddly enough, it does not feel like a Christian movie, and in fact is not marketed as such. To stand on a soapbox for a moment, a movie cannot really be “Christian” anyways. It can be made by Christians or be about Christians, but a movie itself cannot have a faith. Rather this is a movie with Christians and biblical themes communicated in an excellent way.

One of the greatest challenges of filmmaking, Christian in particular, is that of identity crisis. After the screening, some head of some organization came to give a speech about the great need for this film to reach a wide audience. I fear that sometimes Christians feel that movie-making is some miracle cure for the culture… if we can just make the right kind of inspirational movie then millions will be saved, and it will change Western culture. While it is an excellent and inspiring film, I do not think that this one movie or any other film is going to have such a tremendous impact on the culture at large. And you know what? That’s okay. It doesn’t have too. It just needs to be true to itself and tell the story that needs to be told. By focusing on the journey of characters finding meaning and leaving the audience with a message of faith, hope and enduring love, I believe that this film does indeed stand tall.

“When the Game Stands Tall” premiered on August 22 with a run time of 115 minutes and a PG rating. Caution is advised for parents taking children as the movie does depict strong scenes of violence, language and some sexual references.

Finley is a graduate of Liberty University, working with several non-profits over the years including Samaritan’s Purse, Firewall Ministries and His House Children’s Home. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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