Written by Matt Nando Kelly
Plot: Coached by Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), The De La Salle high school football program is known for their incredible 151 game winning streak, but when the streak ends the team has to learn some tough lessons about football and life that will change them forever.
In football, very few things are more frustrating than fumbles. You can miss a pass and it isn’t your fault. You can go off sides and it isn’t the end of the world. The problem with the fumble is that you had the ball. You could have scored if you just held on to it. When the Game Stands Tall feels like a fumble. A story about overcoming a huge loss could have been interesting. Instead, When the Game Stands Tall’s lack of a cohesive narrative and vision turn it into a bloated movie that is about as exciting to watch as a Jaguars game.
When the Game Stands Tall’s biggest problem has to be its bizarre title. When the Game Stands Tall has no significant meaning. It is a phrase spoken once and it just seems to exist to justify calling the movie When the Game Stands Tall. Here are some titles that would have been way better: The Streak, Losing the Streak, De La Salle, When De La Salle Stands Tall, Football Jesus, Stand Spartan, 152, Perfect, The Loss, I am Lost, Spartan Strong, Just a High School Football Game, and Standing Tall. To really drive home how silly of a title this is, I am going to only use the title to refer to When the Game Stands Tall from here on out.
When the Game Stands Tall’s second biggest problem is that the stakes are just never really that high. The De La Salle football program is the Ivan Drago of football programs. They aren’t presented that way, but that’s who they are. When the Game Stands Tall isn’t about the team being forced to move on with their lives once football stops working — they just get right back on the horse and keep winning. Do you want to watch a movie about Ivan Drago losing one fight then going on to clobber everyone else? No. You either want to see Ivan struggle with a blemish on his perfect record or a movie about what happened to that one guy that gave him that loss. Unfortunately, we are watching neither of those.
What would surprise you is that the game they lose isn’t played until halfway through When the Game Stands Tall. So we spend an hour just meandering around what you assume must be the complete events of that year. For instance, one of the players get shot. It’s very sad and leads to one of When the Game Stands Tall’s best performances but it also has nothing to do with anything in the rest of When the Game Stands Tall. It is never referenced again except ever so briefly near the end. It shouldn’t be there and there are many moments like this that just don’t need to here. The problem is that they add up. When the Game Stands Tall clocks in at two hours long and you feel it. I believe there is a watchable football movie in here and it can’t be more than 80 minutes long. We just have to lose some of the fluff to get to it.
The acting was fine. Jim Caviezel was a bit wooden but what do you expect from Football Jesus? He always knows the right answer and has to make really hard choices like whether he should coach the greatest team in high school football history or make way more money and coach one of the greatest teams in college football history. When Caviezel had some room to act, like in the funeral scene, he did a pretty good job. Michael Chiklis was fun. I honestly couldn’t even tell it was him until I went and IMDb’ed When the Game Stands Tall afterwards. Laura Dern was probably on time every day. Alexander Ludwig and Clancy Brown had the most memorable scenes as the star athlete and abusive father. More time with the pair could have set up an interesting relationship but When the Game Stands Tall didn’t have time because instead the team decided to take a trip to the VA Hospital so that one of the players could accidentally spill urine all over himself.
Otherwise, When the Game Stands Tall was fine. The football was filmed pretty well. It would have probably helped if there was more of it, or at least if there was less time between games. All of the white kids except Ludwig seemed to have Justin Bieber haircuts even though the story took place in 2004, way before Justin Bieber haircuts existed. Speaking of 2004, there was also a cameo by current Oakland Raider Maurice Jones-Drew, who really didn’t look like he graduated high school two years before. When the Game Stands Tall also had a fair amount of religion in it. Besides the usual references to prayer and things like that, Coach Landoucer teaches a Bible study class where he interprets the scripture in a way that only Football Jesus could. It isn’t that big of a deal. It is just not present at all in the trailers which seems like a missed opportunity considering the success of religious movies this year.
I would say skip this until it becomes a Lifetime movie that gets cut down to under 90 minutes.
Matthew Nando Kelly is a contributing writer for Pop-Break. Aside from film reviews, he also writes about television and video games. Matthew also has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he discusses pop culture related brackets with fellow Pop-Break writer DJ Chapman. He can occasionally be found writing lists on Topless Robot. His twitter is @NationofNando