Reviewed by: Samuel A. Torcasio—first time reviewer
being a great leader
Coach Ladouceur “placed little value on winning, instead focusing his players on giving a ‘perfect effort’ in life.”
pray together / play together
facing your fears
lending your strength to others
benefits of hard work, good character, teamwork and love
make a commitment / There's no time like the present to make a commitment to yourself, to family, or to friends.
Champions are at their best not when everything is going their way, but when times are most challenging.
being a godly, courageous, self-sacrificing man
brotherhood / importance of significant relationships / “family isn’t just blood relatives”
Why does Bob take his team to a VA rehab center where they see veterans missing limbs, using prosthetics and working hard at rehabilitation?
|Featuring:||James Caviezel … Bob Ladouceur
Alexander Ludwig … Chris Ryan
Michael Chiklis … Terry Eidson
Laura Dern … Bev Ladouceur
Clancy Brown … Mickey Ryan
Ser'Darius Blain … Cam Colvin
Stephan James … T.K. Kelly
Matthew Daddario … Danny Ladouceur
Joe Massingill … Beaser
|Director:||Thomas Carter—“Coach Carter” (2005), “Save the Last Dance” (2001), “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” (2009)|
|Producer:||Affirm Films, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions
|Distributor:||TriStar Pictures (Sony Pictures)|
“Family isn’t just blood relatives, it’s anyone that loves you unconditionally.”
It’s not about winning; it’s about giving it your all. That’s the premise of “When the Game Stands Tall,” the latest entry from Affirm Films. Based on the inspiring true story of high school football team the De La Salle Spartans, and their national record 151 game winning streak from 1992–2004, the film follows Coach Bob Ladouceur, played by Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”), as he teaches his team not only how to be excellent football players, but how to be men of character, as well. When life’s challenges affect the team in a profound way, their ability to bond together as brothers is put to the test.
This film is honest and real. Tragedy and disappointment are confronted head on, and deep theological questions are given thought. Throughout the film Coach Ladouceur is more concerned about the welfare of his players and their development as mature young men than he is in their success at football. He is consistently calling his team to give their best effort in every game, but he never makes it about winning. His concern for their spiritual development is also very apparent. The team is seen saying the Lord’s prayer twice in the film, and the Coach is also a religious instructor at the school. Very early on in the film he asks the young men their thoughts on Luke 6:38, which reads “Give, and it will be given to you.” We are shown contrasting replies, showing that some of the players view God positively and some do not.
Later on in the movie, when one player’s mother is dying, he begins to question God’s goodness in allowing such a thing to happen. He wonders if God sees him or even cares what happens to him, and is distraught that he has almost no family left.
Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer
What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer
Does God feel our pain? Answer
Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer
Coach Ladoucer does not give a cliché or simplistic answer, but rather responds by saying “Family isn’t just blood relatives, it’s anyone that loves you unconditionally,” thereby implying his own care for his player. I think that we Christians can learn a great deal from this; sometimes we are too quick to give the textbook answer, when what people really need is to see that you care and empathize.
When one of the players suddenly dies halfway through the film, the question of why comes back up. During the eulogy, Coach affirms both God’s wisdom, as well as his own personal feeling of loss. So is the Christian life. We must always know that God is good, even in the most difficult of times, but we must also be assured that it is okay to hurt and grieve (Psalm 31:22). At times, throughout the film, even Coach Ladoucer’s weaknesses and struggles are made known.
When the winning streak is broken, the team is devastated and shaken up. As they are worn out and distressed in the locker room, Assistant Coach Terry Eidson reminds them that all that has happened is the loss of a football game. They are exhorted to not let a game define them, but to let the way they live their lives define them. Seeing the team bounce back from this set back is what makes this a true inspirational film.
Some readers will no doubt be familiar with the 2006 high school football film by the Kendrick Brothers (makers of “Fireproof”) “Facing the Giants,” which has a similar emphasis on the importance of character and giving it your all. But the film under review here gives us this message from a different perspective. In “Facing the Giants,” the team went from being the worst to the best; in “When the Game Stands Tall” the team goes from always winning to suddenly losing. So, this allows the issues of character and perseverance to be developed from a completely different angle. Coach Ladoucer says that “Nobody expects you to play perfect, but to give a perfect effort.” The point here is to do your absolute best. The Spartans ultimately could not, at the end of the day, control whether they would wins games—but they could give every game all that they had.
We cannot control everything that we will encounter in our lives. People we love will die, and at times our hearts will even be broken by those we love. We can’t control that. But what can we do? We can give every day our best. When we are down, we can get back up and keep going. Even when we sin, there is hope and forgiveness available to us through our Lord Jesus (1 John 1:9). True winning is done by loving the Lord and loving others with all our heart (Luke 10:27). We want to be able to hear Christ say to us “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).
The film itself is not overtly evangelistic, but elements of Christianity are most certainly there, and it makes for great conversation starters about perseverance in the trials of life and the importance of brotherhood. The team learns the importance of working together, and of putting each other above themselves. Matthew 23:12 which states “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” is both mentioned and applied by the characters in this film. James 4:10 is also a verse that speaks to humility, and it is shown on a gravestone.
The film is enjoyable, and it flows fairly smoothly. Some of the major events and characters in the first half of the film don’t play much of a role at all in the second, so it seems a bit disconnected. But, it should be taken into consideration that this is based on a true story, so that may make it a bit harder to come up with a completely flowing literary plot. If the viewer keeps that in mind, I think that will help to enjoy the progress of the film.
This movie speaks to the value and importance of character, perseverance, and love. The love that the characters in this film show for each other is heartwarming and true to life. Tragedy, as well as the trials and disappointments of life, are handled in a way that is very true to life. The use of Scripture and prayer are also recurrent through this film. This may be a great flick for some families to watch and talk about afterward. However, caution needs to be given due to some objectionable content, so please make sure to pay close attention to the information below, especially if you are bringing young ones.
PROFANITY: 3 uses of “Oh my G*d,” 1 use of “God,” and one use of Jesus Christ’s name in vain.
SEX/NUDITY: Mild. A player jokes about another with an attractive girl, saying, “Tell me you’re getting all over that.” The player responds that they’re waiting because they took a purity pledge. The other player responds with sarcasm. There are affectionate kisses between husband and wife, and an unmarried couple kiss briefly. Shirtless males are seen on various occasions.
VIOLENCE: Heavy. Someone walks up to a car and opens fire on the occupant repeatedly with a gun. His dead body is shown with a small bullet hole. There’s hard tackling and blocking contact in games. Upset people shove each other. A father punches his son in the stomach and pushes him against a car in front of others. Opposing players scuffle during games. One person grabs another by his jacket, and a yelling confrontation follows.
ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE: Mild. One person asks another “Are you high, dawg?” A party is seen where people are drinking.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Mild
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.