|We Are Marhsall (2006)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, David Strathairn, Ian McShane
Following a heart-wrenching defeat in the final game of the 1970 season, the Marshall football team – as well as the coaching staff and several booster members – boarded a plane to go home. They never made it. The tragic plane crash killed everyone on board and sent a wave of grief through the town of Huntington, West Virginia. The only remaining members of the varsity team consisted of four players forced to stay home with injuries – including team captain Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie) – and their assistant coach, Red Dawson (Matthew Fox), who gave up his spot on the plane to another coach hoping to make it home in time for his daughter’s school play.
When the school president (David Strathairn) and head administrator (Ian McShane) – who also lost a son in the crash – agree to suspend the program, however, Ruffin coordinates a university-wide display supporting the prompt rebuilding of the team. This results in the hiring of a new coach (Matthew McConaughey) and a brand new class of players, consisting mostly of freshman starters (a NCAA first). As you’d expect, plenty of feel-good moments follow, but not a single one feels original. In fact, if you stitched together every memorable scene from every great football movie, you’d probably end up with something that looks a lot like “We Are Marshall.”
Not exactly a terrible thing, but it’s quite obvious that big-budget action guru McG isn’t very comfortable behind the camera of such a straight-laced drama. Perhaps he should stick to directing bubblegummy popcorn fare like “Charlie’s Angels,” or producing super-slick television shows like “Fastlane” than worry about ruining yet another film genre. For one, he has absolutely no idea how to compose a sports drama. The big climactic scene should take place in the final act of the film, not after just twenty minutes (yep, you guessed it, I’m talking about the scene from the trailer where the student body is chanting “We are Marshall”). Likewise, while audiences have come to expect a good share of inspirational speeches littered throughout films like these, “Marshall” is positively loaded with them. We get it: people don’t agree with the decision to reinstate the football program, but can we please move on to something a little more interesting?
As can be expected, McConaughey crams as much Southern charm as possible into his tragically underdeveloped character, while Matthew Fox (who’s been given a fresh start thanks to the commercial success of “Lost”) plays the inevitable role of the crybaby. And yet despite such disappointing leading performances, supporting turns by Strathairn and McShane help to spice up the story.“We Are Marshall” isn’t the first football movie of the year, nor is it the worst or the best. In fact, much like most of the holiday season, this is about as average as you can get. Sure, it’s got a classic story grounded in about as much history as the usual sports drama, but will anyone outside of West Virginia even care? Probably not, and the filmmakers don’t make it any easier for those that do. They introduce us to a handful of nameless characters that we’re somehow supposed to care about, attempt to inspire us by showing their courage in the face of adversity, and then briefly mention that for the next twenty years, the Marshall football program was one of the worst in the nation. Um, okay.