It is rare these days that a movie is deep and meaningful enough to elicit genuine emotion. We are Marshall (2006), which chronicles the horrible plane crash that took the lives of 75 people in 1970 including (almost) the entire Marshall University football team, and it aftermath, is certainly one. Going into this movie I expected a feel-good-can-do-American sprit movie; what I didnt expect was that they would do such a fine job of making me care about it all.
Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol a.k.a. McG (The O.C., Chuck, Supernatural) We Are Marshall begins with Annie Cantrell (Kate Mara - Nip/Tuck, Shooter) the fiancée of one of the dead players, narrating as the tragedy that was the plane crash of November 14, 1970 unfolds on the screen. The Thundering Herd football team of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia had just lost a home game and were flying to their next match up when the team plane crashed, killing all aboard.
The Varsity team was wiped out save four seniors and the team had to be re-built from scratch. The university president Dr. Dedmon (David Strathaim Silkwood, City of Hope) brings in Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey Angels in the Outfield, Boys on the Side, A Time to Kill) to coach the team, after Red Dawson (Matthew Fox Party of Five, Haunted, Lost) the only surviving member of the Marshall University athletic department, turns him down. Dawson would later come back as assistant coach.
Lengyel has quirky, unconventional ways of doing everything, from remembering players names (though I use that method as well), to motivating the team, to approaching a rival team to let him have unfettered access to their playbook. But he manages to pull together a new team made up mostly of freshman and juniors, and wins the towns support for his efforts.
There are a few resisters, chiefly Paul Griffen (Ian McShane Madson, Lovejoy, Deadwood), whose son was killed in the plane crash. He holds considerable sway over the university board, but in time even he is won over. After all what is more American than football?
We Are Marshall is of course formulaic, but that does not stop one from caring deeply about the characters. The movie is less about football and the mechanics of the game than is about the impact of the tragedy upon a typical town in West Virginia, and the people who helped put the pieces together again. It is so very human and therein lays its appeal.
We Are Marshall isnt a deep movie, McG did not dig deeply into the lives of those involved, indeed we know these people only on the surface, but in this case a cursory understanding is all that is needed. McG deftly intersperse hard-hitting football action with close-up emotional torment; tears flow freely from the eyes of men and woman in this film with equal eagerness, and it had an effect on this reviewer. From quivering hands to beseeching swelling eyes, to simmering anger, the cast opens the door to the emotional toll such a tragedy must have taken on such a close-knit American town like Huntington WV. We Are Marshall is a quintessential American tale, full of bravado, and misplaced quilt and emotional torment, and I loved almost every minute of it!
Every member of the cast did a masterful job of bringing this story to life. McConaughey and Fox were both inspiring, as was Anthony Mackie (The Manchurian Candidate, Million Dollar Baby, Freedomland) who portrayed Nate Ruffin the senior who rallied the university student body to force the board to listen and re-constitute the football team. Other notable cast members include January Jones, Kimberly Williams, and Arlen Escarpeta.
We Are Marshall is an unabashedly sentimental, but inspiring movie that leans heavily on McConaugheys and substantial energy and charisma as well as Foxs quiet, dignified strength for its success. And succeed it does as a story well worth telling about a town and University well worth knowing. WE ARE (ALL) MARSHALL.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12
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