Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
Jim Caviezel fans will be happy to hear the Catholic actor is returning to the silver screen once more in a feature film that tells the story of legendary high-school football coach Bob Ladouceur — a Catholic religious studies teacher, who built the De La Salle High School Spartans from an obscure team into a juggernaut with a record-making 151 game winning streak.
Caviezel stars in Sony Picture’s When the Game Stands Tall as Coach Ladouceur, and he introduced the film to the participants at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. through a pre-recorded video. He apologized that last-minute conflicts made it impossible for him to be there in person, but he wanted them to know about “Coach Lad” and his team, and what lessons Catholics can draw from this powerful story.
“Coach Lad doesn’t ask his players to be perfect,” he said. “Instead, he challenges them to give a perfect effort.”
“I have a line in there where I say, ‘winning is a just a way of keeping score for when opportunity and a perfect effort meet,’” Caviezel added. “Think about that: striving to do our best in whatever we do is something we all can aim for.”
Participants then got a chance to view a preview of the film, and it gave strong indications that veteran Hollywood director Thomas Carter and screenwriter Scott Marshall Smith are going to tell a compelling story. The plot’s main conflict looks like it won’t be the rise of the Spartans, but will focus on what happened when the unstoppable team and its proud town finally lost: how Coach Lad, his team, and the community suffered, struggled, and chose to rise again as better people.
The film appears to have a strong plot, according to the trailer, and that’s a very comforting thought. Hopefully, the film will deliver on the trailer’s promise. I go to a film, because I think it tells a good story, I can accompany the characters as they develop, and the story’s conflict and resolution gives me something to think about.
That’s why when someone says the main selling point of a film is “the message,” I think it’s a bad sign and probably not worth my time. The director and screenwriter have likely failed to tell you a good story. Sometimes, it is because they sacrifice plot on the altar of the theme, because they think you won’t “get the message.” But compelling stories are principally about people and their journey in life, not abstract ideas — and the insights of the Greek philosopher Aristotle apply to good storytelling today as much as they did for the Greek playwrights of 350 B.C.
The most important part of a story/tragedy/drama is the plot as wise old Aristotle explains in his Poetics. Aristotle points out that plot is first, character arc (how they change over the course of the story) is second, and the themes (message, moral, idea, etc.) are third. Unfortunately, too-much faith-based entertainment inverts this 2,300 year-old wisdom by making theme the priority element, and subjecting the plot and character development to the demands of the message from the screenwriter/director/producer. There’s a reason why Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life work continues to be a classic, and appeals to a broad array of people, and why most modern faith-based entertainment scores duds with audiences on the silver screen, and not too well on video.
In fact, a lot of Hollywood film-making would be improved following Aristotle’s order for the six important elements of the story.
Filming for When the Game Stands Tall is complete, and a projected release date is Aug. 22 according to IMBD. Here’s hoping that When the Game Stands Tall arrives in cinema theatres, we will enter into a story, accompany the characters through triumph and tragedy, and find ourselves changed for the better as we watch them rise again.
At the very least, I’ll be happy to see more of Caviezel on the big screen. Caviezel has been re-emerging from Hollywood obscurity (as a result of playing Jesus in Passion of the Christ) with his role as ex-CIA agent John Reese in the TV drama Person of Interest. Hopefully this film is a sign of more to come.