Directed by: Thomas Carter | 110 minutes | drama, sports | Actors: Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis, Alexander Ludwig, Clancy Brown, Laura Dern, Matthew Daddario, Joe Massingill, Jessie Usher, Ser’Darius Blain, Stephan James, Richard Kohnke, Matthew Frias, Chase Boltin, Gavin Casalegno
Bob Ladouceur is a great hero in sports-loving America. In 1979 – he was only 25 years old – he joined De La Salle High Spartans, an American football team from Concord, California. A team that had barely won since the school was founded in 1965. However, that changed drastically after Ladouceur took office. De La Salle went on to win more and more, climbing a step up the ladder of sports leagues and between 1992 and 2004 – twelve seasons (151 games) in a row – the team remained unbeaten: a national winning streak record in high school American Football. Ladouceur was adored until he retired in 2013 and of course a book is being written about such an American sports hero (“When the Game Stands Tall” from 2003, by Neil Hayes). More than ten years later, on the occasion of the tenth “anniversary” of the competition that ended that impressive winning streak, that book was filmed under the same title by director Thomas Carter.
In the first instance, that film is about learning to deal with loss. On September 4, 2004, the series of victories of De La Salle comes to an end, and then also against low-flyer Bellvue Wolverines. It was a defeat that turned the American sports world upside down (unlike the Netherlands, amateur sport – and in particular the competitions held at high schools and universities – is a gigantic business that attracts hordes of spectators and therefore also commercial stakeholders. come). In the movie “When the Game Stands Tall” we see what preceded that opening game of the 2004-2005 season. In the summer, one of the star players was shot, Coach Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) had a heart attack and the top talents left the team to try their luck in college. After the shocking loss against the Wolverines, Ladouceur has to get his players back on time. He does this on the basis of his unyielding focus on character building, faith, responsibility and involvement.
Initially, When the Game Stands Tall appears to take a different angle from many other sports films, by focusing on the impact an unexpected loss has on the team and everyone who cares about the team. However, this film too soon falls into the clichés that are apparently inherent to the genre; heroism will triumph. On the basis of the great hero, coach Ladouceur, the team scrambles to rise to great heights. The only problem is that “When the Game Stands Tall” isn’t nearly as inspiring as its creators envisioned. This is partly due to Caviezel, who does not exactly excel at conveying emotions and involvement (given the film’s edifying message, however, it is no surprise that the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (2004) role was roped …). Incidentally, Laura Dern, Michael Chiklis and Clancy Brown can also be seen in the film and Chiklis especially knows how to stand out in a positive way. But it’s not just the phlegmatic protagonist that “When the Game Stands Tall” doesn’t come out well. It is mainly the excessive use of (genre) clichés, the very sweet melodrama that is displayed outside the sports field and the lack of originality.
Where “When the Game Stands Tall” does score points, is the way in which director Carter portrays the games. Dynamic and full of energy, at the right pace and with a lot of feeling – basically everything that is missing from the scenes off the field – he draws the viewer into the match. The contrast with the drama surrounding the football is so great that you look forward to the next match images again and again. Even though you know that the predictable heroism in the form of a spectacular victory dragged from the fire with great pain and effort will inevitably follow.