DVD Picks & Passes
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, clean-language version.
- September 16-22, 2007