A review of “We are Marshall” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG for mature themes and a scary accident scene

Run Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes

 

 

Long-standing traditions of gridiron majesty and small-town pride permeate this touching but conventional tale of tragedy and re-birth.

Marshall University is a small West Virginia college with a mediocre football team that is nonetheless the delight of Huntington. A tragic plane crash shatters Marshall’s athletic dreams, killing the entire team, its coaches and a number of football faithful.

Reeling from the shock the town attempts to pick up the pieces from its splintered heart and soul. The star quarterback’s broken-hearted fiancée (Kate Mara) and stunned father (Ian McShane) take comfort from one another while Assistant Coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox), who opted for a recruiting trip on that fateful day, struggles with survivor’s guilt.

And then there’s the matter of the football season which University President Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) decides to quash due to lack of new recruits and a lingering sense of grief.

Enter hyper-enthusiastic motivator Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), an aw-shucks coach who takes on the impossible task of rebuilding crushed spirits, a traumatized town and a football team.

There are dramas within dramas, most of them centering on the downhill effort to assemble a greenhorn football squad. “Marshall” doesn’t score any touchdowns in the emotion department, choosing to fumble its way through series after series of training montages set to 70s era pop hits and highlighting Lengyel’s crazy plaid jackets and mile-long sideburns.

The two Matthews are at opposite ends of the spectrum dramatically; Fox playing the conflict for real and McConaughey lending a goofy, “let’s put on a show” air that doesn’t entirely suit the seriously sentimental tone that director McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) seems to be aiming for.

But, and it’s a big but, there’s something inherently satisfying in the chestnut clichés of a sports film, a rah-rah, go-team mind-set that has been and always will be an integral part of the movie landscape.