"We are Marshall" covers no new ground

12/19/2006

By Phil Boatwright
The Movie Reporter 

We Are Marshall
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, David Strathairn, Ian McShane, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, January Jones, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Huntley Ritter, Kate Mara
Director: McG
Rating: PG
Opens: Dec. 22

In 1970, while traveling back to Huntington, W. Va., 75 members of Marshall University’s football team and coaching staff were killed in a plane crash. As those left behind struggled to cope with the devastating loss of their loved ones, the grieving families found hope and strength in the leadership of Jack Lengyel, a young coach who was determined to rebuild Marshall's football program and in the process helped to heal a community. 

Here we have a story based on a true and tragic incident. But make no mistake, this film isn’t really about the dead team members. We don’t learn much about that team. We don’t even learn why the plane crashed. This film is more about the perseverance of a sport by those who think football is something God himself prefers to Sunday worship.   

Matthew McConaughey channels Robert Duvall in his effort to create a tough but sensitive head coach who must rebuild the team while motivating the rest of the town to rebuild the football program. There are some attempts at motivating messages about starting over and dealing with the guilt and anger that follows tragedy, but most every emotion that’s tackled here has been handled with more filmmaking skill in past entries.

The Pursuit of Happyness
Cast:
Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith.  Columbia Pictures.  Drama.  Written by Steve Conrad. 
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Rating: PG-13 

Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a single father of a 5-year-old son (Jaden Smith), suddenly finding himself evicted from his apartment and unable to land a well-paying job. Forced to live in shelters, enduring many hardships, Chris refuses to let this dampen his spirits as he pursues his dream of security for himself and his son. 

This is a good movie. And if it weren’t for a shoe, it would be a great movie. The story and Smith’s performance reveal that even when faced with insurmountable odds, a man can climb out of life’s traps and even rearrange his destiny.  

Smith’s character faces many pitfalls. It starts off with a major business mistake, and then he comes home to a wife who has had enough and has decided to move out, leaving husband and child behind. He then keeps losing his products by making stupid decisions. He has a problem with the IRS. His car is impounded, and he’s arrested for possessing too many parking tickets. He’s evicted — twice. Most of these trying experiences are necessary to portray a man overcoming moments of crisis. Through these problems we see the main character’s steadfast love for his son and his determination to fight life’s fiascos. When running after a thief, he’s hit by a car. He’s uninjured, but can’t find the shoe that was dislodged by the encounter. 

The Pursuit of Happyness is gut wrenching, but it will touch you as it reminds just how undeterminable life is and what opportunities are still available to those who don’t give up. There’s also a muted spiritual message that seems to signal a change in this man’s life. At one point, the boy and his frustrated dad are forced to stay at a homeless shelter sponsored by a church. The lead is not seen praying, but at a worship service we do see him worship. Soon after this spiritual moment, life begins to change for our hero. 

I think it’s a well-made film, an important film, a good film.  But it would have been a great film without the missing shoe. 

Charlotte’s Web
Cast: Dakota Fanning and the voices of Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, André Benjamin, Thomas Haden Church, Robert Redford, Reba McEntire, Kathy Bates
Director: Gary Winick 
Rating: G

Fern (Dakota Fanning) is one of only two living beings who sees that Wilbur is a special animal as she raises him, the runt of the litter, into a terrific and radiant pig. As Wilbur moves into a new barn, he begins a second profound friendship with the most unlikely of creatures — a spider named Charlotte — and their bond inspires the animals around them to come together as a family.  

What an incredible story, completely involving, yet loaded with life lessons for children and reminders for adults. Not only have Walden Media and Paramount Pictures done justice to the book, they have given families a flawless, perfect film. 

Hollywood so seldom presents us with a perfect movie. This is one of them. A classic – not just one of the best family films of 2006, but of ever.