From the first “snap” of the film, When the Game Stands Tall, directed by Thomas Carter, is an exciting movie and forcefully reminds watchers the meaning of teamwork and accountability.
Based on a true story, When the Game Stands Tall features the De La Salle High School football team that is famous for its winning streak of over 150 games. The film begins with the team about to win a state championship and extend the streak to 151 games. During this part of the movie, the Spartans are led by seniors T.K. Kelly (Stephan James) and Cam Colvin (Ser'Darius William Blain), who are able to encourage their teammates to be accountable for and play for one another. In the offseason that follows, events such as the death of Colvin’s mother, the murdering of T.K. Kelly, and Head Coach Bob Ladoucer (Jim Caviezel) suffering a heart-attack foreshadow a relatively dim future for the De La Salle team. The beginning of the next season showed the Spartans in a new light, as new players, such as big-shot receiver Tayshon Lanear (Jessie Usher), were more egocentric and diverted away from the team-centered values that Coach Ladoucer had preached for years. As a result, the team dropped both of their first two contests that season and the coaching staff had to take the team to a VA Hospital where rehabilitating soldiers taught the players the true meaning of team. After that experience, the team quickly bonded and originally self-important characters bought into the team and character building concepts that Coach Ladoucer proclaimed. With the Spartan's united identity, they went on to achieve great things, both on and off the field.
The array of emotions and differing attitudes of characters were well-played, making them a force in keeping viewers engaged. This was evident during the intense events around the death of Cam Colvin’s mother (Adella Gautier), as well as the interactions within the Ladoucer family following Bob Ladoucer’s heart-attack. During these moments, the camera showed an abundance of close-ups, giving viewers an intimate look at the characters' morales. Additionally, background music during key points aided in building the emotion of the segments. Also, in the few scenes where in-game dialogue was seen, viewers could see both the self-interested side of some of the players, as well as the desire for teamwork and victory displayed by other players, particularly after the Spartans lost their winning streak. When the Game Stands Tall, however, fell short in giving viewers the in-game interactions between players during the seasons in which T.K. Kelly and Cam Colvin played. Dialogue from those games could have been useful in allowing viewers to see the difference in the older, always victorious teams and the newer, egomaniacal team that ruined the decade-long winning streak. Also, Coach Ladoucer was played as a very calm coach who, whereas football coaches are usually loud and intense. Having a robust personality playing Coach Ladoucer may have made the coach seem more realistic.
Another area in which this film exceeded was showing the thought that characters put into plot-changing decisions. For example, when Bob Ladoucer, a force for good in the movie, realizes that his aging message of teamwork was not successful with his new team, he felt unneeded at De La Salle and considered moving to Stanford University. In the end, Ladoucer stayed true to himself and continued conveying the same message to his players. Secondly, when running back Chris Ryan had the opportunity to break the state scoring record and please his demanding father in his final game at DLS, Ryan, showing wisdom beyond his years, decided to heed Coach Ladoucer’s message and focus on the team rather than individual achievements. The emotions, decisions and lessons that were shown in When the Game Stands Tall made the movie a moving viewing experience.
Despite the numerous merits of the film, it does seem to follow the same path of many movies in that it revolves around a struggle for teamwork. This fight for teamwork that eventually culminates the ideal team in which all players fight for one another and are successful can be found in a myriad of films, especially sports movies. Although the values of "giving a perfect effort on every play" and commitment seen in When the Game Stands Tall are pertinent to the real world, having an original way of portraying the core team values may have made the film stand out more.
After viewing the film, I would most definitely recommend it. As an avid football fan, I found it easy to follow the plot, but viewing the movie does not require too much knowledge of football and the lessons conveyed are applicable to anyone in any situation. The plot is engaging and contains very few shortcomings.