Wednesday, December 26, 2007

[DVD] We Are Marshall (2006)

We Are Marshall!

It's easy to see why We Are Marshall went straight to DVD here. American Football has probably one of the lowest following here given we're more of soccer/football mad country, or follow sports which have a more international appeal like Tennis, Golf, Basketball, and those which have been made curriculum in school. Even then, sports movies rarely make it to the screens here too, or are on screen for an extremely limited time only. So it's an extremely niche market to appeal to.

We Are Marshall is a sports movie with a difference, or at least amongst those in the same genre and on the same sports that I've seen. First and foremost, the story stemmed from a tragedy, similar to the Munich air disaster which inflicted a blow to Manchester United in 1958, or the Superga air disaster which took out Italian football team Torino FC in 1949. Marshall University's Thundering Herd football squad was dealt a similar blow in an air disaster in 1970 where they lost almost all their players, and their backroom staff including coaches and trainers, amongst other prominent members of their small town society in a single swoop.

It's not your usual movie where the hero/team are put together from a bunch of misfits, and learn about camaraderie and teamwork, before charting their successes from the first game to the championship, which they will inevitably take. That's formula, and easily what you'd come to expect. But here, while there are moments of cliche that are inevitable for movies of such nature, like the dealing with tragedy, and the sports elements, what makes this stand out, is how the events are portrayed with some degree of honoring those who had passed on.

McG is not one of the most prolific directors of our time, and I know those who actually cringe at his more recognizable work like the Charlie Angels remake movies. But here, he surprises with very muted direction, without all the unnecessary flashes of flamboyance, and puts together a very effective movie that tells the tale, to the point, and without hints of exaggeration. Come to think of it, there's more exasperating moments here than whoops of jubilance, which seemed more like winning the battle, but not the war.

With the tragedy, the board has to decide whether to drop the sport altogether from its sporting calendar, or soldier on. Even with the latter, the question is how to build such a team from scratch, and also to deal with the psychological blows the tragedy had inflicted on surviving members of the squad, which without a doubt, is a big demon to fight, given massive guilt which befall on some of them. Enter head coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), who volunteers for this impossible task. Racing against time, he teams with Red Dawson (Lost's Matthew Fox) to recruit for a football team, fighting a recruiting war with other more prominent teams, and to entice those who are engaged in other sports to join them, based on specific qualities for vacant positions.

Although we have a number of powerful character actors like David Strathairn and Ian McShane in the movie, McConaughey proved that he's not just another pretty face that should be boxed into romantic movies. His Jack Lengyel is physically crafted with that slightly hunched forward physique as if he's always on the go, and comes through as an effective never-say-die-until-the-final-whistle coach, who refuses to give up in the face of adversity, or to throw in the towel midway. Without pedigree credentials, he goes on to prove that he's the right man for the job, convincing everyone that it's not always about winning, which is blasphemy to any sports team out there.

And if you take a step back and ponder, this movie junks that formulaic plot development, just like how Lengyel throws out conventional thought and wisdom out of the window. There's a first time for everything, and he's there to try and change the mindset and philosophy of the game and the townsfolk. I thought he nailed it right of what I thought sports is - which first and foremost is about sportsmanship, participation, and giving your best, no matter what the end result is. That seemed to be the spirit missing amongst those looking for instant success, and his fight is to instill this back again. Success will come to those who work hard and are hungry for it, but for a rookie team with makeshift tactics, the point is to show that they will not buckle, and to rise from the ash like a phoenix, finding strength and to pick up the pieces, providing hope and some measure of cheer to its supporters. His coach is to become counsellor as well, but not to a person or a team, but to an entire university town.

We Are Marshall makes recommended viewing, and more so for the qualities it exudes.

Code 3 DVD from Warner Video comes in anamorphic widescreen presentation with excellent visual transfer. Audio is available only in English and Thai, with subtitles in English, Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Mandarin and Korean. Scene selection is available over 31 chapters for this 131 minute movie.

There's only one special feature here worth mentioning. The others are the Theatrical Trailer (2:29) and a one minute Marshall Now featurette which features alumni members of Marshall University speaking about their time in school and how things have changed, for the better of course. The main extra is a documentary on Legendary Coaches (37:00), introduced by director McG, which showcases very US-centric sports coaches from games like basketball and American football, and talking heads styled interviews interspersed with video and photos from actual training and games. Those featured include Jack Lengyel (of this movie), Bobby Bowden, Pat Summit, Lute Olsen, George Horton and John Wooden.

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