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Movie Review: “When the Game Stands Tall” (Rated PG)

TriStar(NEW YORK) -- When the Game Stands Tall takes on the story of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur.   Played here by Jim Caviezel, Ladoceur’s a deeply religious man who puts his high school football team before himself and, it would seem, his family. The result? Concord, California’s De La Salle High School football team, the Spartans, win a record 151 consecutive games. This story starts at the end of the 2003 football season, when De La Salle wins its final game of the streak.
As the seniors graduate, the team is losing some of its most talented players, and it seems the juniors, led by Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig, The Hunger Games) and the coach’s son, Danny (Matthew Daddario), lack the heart and chemistry of the previous teams that upheld the streak.  And although Chris is on pace to set the all-time state touchdown record, he doesn’t want to achieve that record nearly as badly as his father, Mikey, does (Clancy Brown).
Then it all begins to fall apart.  Coach Ladouceur has a heart attack just before the 2004 season begins, preventing him from participating in spring practice. Making matters worse, one of the Spartans’ former star players is shot and killed, the night before he was scheduled to report to the University of Oregon.
The rest of When the Game Stands Tall is everybody trying to bounce back from adversity while coping with real human loss, and the loss of their coveted winning streak. To triumph, Ladouceur is going to have to be more than just a coach -- but, as we learn, to these young men he always was more than a coach.
Director Thomas Carter does a nice job of capturing the innate humanity of this story.  While so many of our great sports movies are about believing in oneself and defying the odds, When the Games Stands Tall is more about faith and selflessness.  It’s a message that on occasion is driven home through hokey plot devices, but you know what? It works.
Four out of five stars.

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