Film Review by Kam Williams
Disgraced Coach Redeems Self in Overcoming-the-Odds Sports Saga
In the fall of 1987, Jim White (Kevin Costner) was fired as head football coach of a high school team in Boise, Idaho when he lost his temper and hit one of his players in the face and drew blood. With a wife (Maria Bello) and two young daughters (Morgan Saylor and Elsie Fisher) to support, the hot-headed perfectionist found himself in urgent need of another job.
So, he accepted a demotion to assistant football coach at the public high school in the predominantly-Latino, working-class town of McFarland, California. However, once it became clear on the gridiron that being second-in-command wasn’t working out, the versatile veteran came up with the idea of fielding a cross-country track team instead.
Though initially skeptical, Principal Camillo (Valente Rodriguez) grudgingly agreed, and White immediately started scouting around campus for fleet-footed prospects. As it turned out, many of McFarland High’s Chicano students were already in shape, being accustomed to darting the long distance from the field to the classroom, after picking fruit and vegetables alongside their parents from the crack of dawn.
Upon settling on seven promising protégés, the dilemma yet confronting Coach White was whether or not their cash-strapped clans could afford the luxury of letting them run track in lieu of laboring as farm workers in the wee hours of the morning? If so, the boys might also be afforded an opportunity to expand their horizons, since a standout’s landing an athletic college scholarship was definitely a distinct possibility.
Directed by New Zealand’s Niki Caro (Whale Rider), McFarland, USA is much more than your typical, overcoming-the-odds
sports saga, in spite of the fact that it might sound fairly formulaic at first blush. Yes, it’s a classic case of a disgraced coach making the most of a shot at redemption with the help of a motley crew of underestimated underdogs.
Nevertheless, this true tale of overcoming-the-odds proves oh so touching because it simultaneously sheds light on the plight on of an invisible sector of society, namely, the masses of mostly Mexican immigrants who harvest our produce in obscurity for a mere pittance.
Kevin Costner has never been more endearing than in this outing as a devoted mentor and family man. And he’s surrounded in that endeavor by a talented supporting cast convincing enough to make it easy to forget you’re watching actors, at least until the closing credits roll. That’s when we’re treated to photos of the real-life people just portrayed, plus positive updates about their present lives which serve to validate all the sacrifices made.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for violence, mild epithets and mature themes
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 129 minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures