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BY Steven D. Greydanus
We are Marshall (2006) - Pick
Beyond the Gates (2005) - Pick
New this week on DVD, We Are Marshall is one of the better
sports films in recent years. It rises above the clichés that define the genre,
connecting sport to larger issues in an emotionally satisfying way.
The film is based on a true story — the 1970 West Virginia
crash of a charter plane that killed virtually the whole Marshall University
Thundering Herd football team and coaching staff. The disaster, possibly the
worst in American sports history, devastated the town. Marshall’s football
program seemed unsalvageable. The screenplay deftly balances the views of the
survivors who wanted nothing to do with football at Marshall with those who
didn’t want the crash to have the last word. But can any cobbled-together
Thundering Herd be more than a mocking echo of the team that perished?
Most sports-movie coaches have all the answers.
Refreshingly, new coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) doesn’t. He isn’t a
commanding authority figure like Herb Brooks from Miracle, and doesn’t come in
with a winning game plan for transforming a hodgepodge of unpromising athletes
into a disciplined team.
The film offers engaging glimpses into Lengyel’s process of
trial and error as he tries to build a team out of thin air. As usual in
Hollywood, a Catholic priest is on hand for religious functions, and there are
other small faith-and-football religious touches.
Also new this week on DVD, Beyond the Gates follows the excellent
Hotel Rwanda in telling a story based on actual events about courageous men
offering sanctuary to thousands of Tutsi refugees during the Rwandan holocaust.
The film focuses on Father Christopher (John Hurt), a
Catholic priest, and Joe (Hugh Dancy), an idealistic young teacher, who use a
Christian school near Kigali as a refuge when the killing starts. The
protagonists are fictional composites, but the school is real, and the film was
shot on location with survivors among the cast and crew. Unfortunately,
characters and themes aren’t well developed. Father Christopher, an archetypal
Hollywood good priest, is the voice of Western conscience; Joe, the
well-intentioned but naive outsider, is the embodiment of Western guilt.
Refreshingly, Father Christopher is equally concerned with
the spiritual and temporal well-being of his flock. His best lines involve
familiar but worthwhile answer to the perennial question “Where is God in the
midst of tragedy?” (His worst line is a catechetical howler on the nature of
the Real Presence.) Beyond the Gates is most worth seeing for its
uncompromising portrait of an episode more representative of the Rwandan
genocide than the events depicted in Hotel Rwanda. At the same time, the film
offers little insight into the Hutu or Tutsi experience, focusing as it does on
its European protagonists.
We Are Marshall: Disaster-site footage; emotional depictions
of grieving; sports roughness; frequent crass language and occasional
profanity. Might be okay for kids. Beyond the Gates: Disturbing images of
carnage and mayhem; a few obscenities and an instance of profanity; a brief
childbirth scene (nothing explicit). Teens and up. Also available in an edited,