Sports are the ideal battleground for Hollywood when it comes to dealing with the themes of teamwork and overcoming adversity, especially football. Films like Remember the Titans and Friday Night Lights have risen in popularity over the years as the main focus is place upon the characters rather than the sports they play. When the Game Stands Tall follows suit in the ongoing theme, but doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of its fellow teammates.
De La Salle High School’s football team has one of sports most consecutive wins records at 151 games. Led by coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) the team has not lost a game in 12 years, an unprecedented record. Nothing lasts forever, though, and as a new football season is about to start coach Ladouceur must bring his team together and show them that “The Streak” isn’t everything.
Like most inspirational sports stories, When the Game Stands Tall is based on true events. De La Salle High School really did win 151 games in a row starting in 1992, as improbable as that may sound. Coach Ladouceur is the backbone of the team and the film, but it Jim Caviezel doesn’t make it feel that way.
Caviezel’s performance is monotonous at best and uninspiring at worst. He demeanor and attitude remain the same throughout the entire film, whether he’s giving a speech to his team during halftime or delivering a eulogy at a player’s funeral. It’s a jarring performance and not what you want to see out of a head coach for the winningest football team ever.
The football games are far more entertaining, however. There are a couple of big games that are primarily shown, such as when the team suffers their first loss and when they play for the championship, and they are all equally exciting. If you’re a sports fanatic, When the Game Stands Tall has some great action in it. If only the story itself was better.
The film attempts to do too much by telling too many little side stories that end up getting lost in the fray. Running back Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig) is on the verge of getting his own state record for most touchdowns in a single season and has an overbearing father who pushes him too hard. It’s the stereotypical sports relationship we’ve seen time and time again. There’s also Cam (Ser'Darius Blain), who’s impacted by the death of a close teammate early on in the film, but you practically forget about him when everything shifts focus towards the middle. Only towards the end when he shows up on screen again do you think to yourself, “oh yeah, he was part of the team.” There are some many things going on that it’s difficult to keep track of them all.
When the Game Stands Tall ultimately falls short when it comes to inspirational sports films. It has some exciting football moments, but they’re sandwiched between dull acting and an overly complex story. It’s not a good sign when the footage of the real Bob Ladouceur coaching that is playing during the end credits is more interesting than the film itself.