We Are Marshall is formulaic but effective

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

We Are Marshall

We Are Marshall
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, David Strathairn, Ian McShane
Directed By: McG

3 stars

“Just let us see the front of the plane.”

“Son, there is no front of the plane.”

A horrific plane crash provides the backdrop for exactly what the world needs today: another football drama based on a true story.

Sarcasm aside, McG’s latest film, We Are Marshall, is fairly watchable for football and non football fans alike.

The true story is set in the early 1970s in Huntington, West Virginia, home of Marshall University. Tragedy strikes when 75 members of the football team and coaching staff are killed in a plane crash. The tight-knit town is devastated and Marshall considers ending the football program but, after four remaining football players and, later, the student body, protest, it reluctantly maintains it.

Cue a scruffy Matthew McConaughey as Jack Lengyel to step in as the head coach when others refuse the position. Fully understanding the challenge of assembling a new team and staff, he cranks up the charm, slapping players’ butts off the field and talking with one side of his mouth.

Charm works on team staffer Red Dawson (Lost’s Matthew Fox), who agrees to become assistant coach. Fox apparently has a morbid fascination with plots involving plane crashes; they give him an excuse to be as angst ridden as possible. In We Are Marshall, it really works for him.

Surprisingly enough, the story is delivered quite respectfully with close attention to detail, character development, and the people themselves. We Are Marshall doesn’t try to be something it isn’t; it’s about using love to persevere against great odds. This love isn’t for football, but more for a hurting community needing to heal.

As for the football itself, the game sequences are admirable thanks to intense cinematography. Sadly, like in most films inspired by true stories, a clunky wrap-up revealing each character’s fate detracts from what would have been a strong ending.

It’s not a bad effort from a director whose film resumé includes only the Charlie’s Angels films and last summer’s horror flick Stay Alive, and who was an executive producer for The O.C. With those spoiled brats finally ending their sad run on the tube, McG is moving on.

We Are Marshall finds identity through loss and, if doing so must include a game or two of football, so be it.

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