The Junction Boys

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Rating: Unrated

Starring:
Tom Berenger as Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant
Fletcher Humphrys as Skeet Keeler
Ryan Kwanten as Claude Gearheart
Bernard Curry as Johnny Haynes
Nick Tate as Smokey Harper
Luke Ford as Perch
Josef Ber as Pine
Ryan Johnson as Mike Hess
Warwick Sadler as Welch
Mark Lee as Gilmore
Andy Anderson as Betch
Ewen Leslie as Luke Mason
Mathew Edgerton as Jimmy Nubbs
David Webb as Dr. Wiedeman

Special Features:

“SportsCentury” feature on Paul Bear Bryant

“Outside the Lines: The Real Junction Boys”

Other Info:
Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Dolby Digital Surround Sound
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 93 Minutes

Synopsis:
This movie originally aired on ESPN and is now making its appearance on DVD.

In 1954, Paul “Bear” Bryant arrived at Texas A&M as the new head coach of the football team. Determined to build a new, tough team, he shipped his players to the town of Junction in west Texas for training camp. Facing 100+ degree temperatures and harsh conditions, Bryant puts his team through a punishing series of exercises and drills. His brutal manner and abusive tactics drove off over two thirds of the players. Those that stayed behind were either too determined to quit, too stubborn to run away, or they had no other options but to stay and play. Bryant pushed them to the very limits of their endurance. Even he began to wonder if he pushed them too far. However, the survivors, calling themselves the Junction Boys, ended up finding their lives changed forever as well as a deep respect for their coach.

“The Junction Boys” is rated in the US as TV-14 L.

The Movie:
This movie holds particular interest to me because I’m a Texas A&M graduate. (Mirko is also an Aggie!). Along with that, Gene Stallings was not only one of the Junction Boys and a National Championship winning coach for Alabama, but he was a member of the church I attended in College Station, Texas. I got to hear him speak on a couple of occasions and it was quite memorable. So with that in mind, I had added interest in how Texas A&M was portrayed in the film. The school holds honor, toughness, and football in high regard (even when our team sucks) and I think this film did a good job emphasizing that.

All that aside, sports legend Bear Bryant is the main attraction of this film. This is a warts and all telling of his early years and the film pulls no punches. Bryant’s toughness, ego, and stubbornness are all emphasized right along with his self-doubt, caring for the boys, and winning spirit. Bryant dances back and forth over the line between abuse and tough love. It’s quite amazing what he was able to get away with back in those days. A coach today would get in serious trouble for what he pulled back then. While I’m sure a lot of things were embellished, I think there’s enough here to drive home the point that Bryant was a tough old coot.

Tom Berenger is superb as Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant. He does a good job portraying the man’s toughness and drive for perfection. And as tough as he is, you also fully believe his performance when you see him starting to doubt his own tactics and his desire for forgiveness in his later years. Backing up Berenger is a great cast of unknown young men. They all do a good job showing the love-hate relationship the boys have for Bryant. There’s an interesting psychological drama underneath everything they do. What drives some men to run away from this tyrant and other men to flock to him and be eager to please him? I suppose the answer to that question is the key to leadership, and Bryant was an undisputed master at it. For some reason those he didn’t drive off remained fiercely loyal to him.

While sports are the heart of this film, the psychological drama behind it is the real interesting story. I don’t think you have to be a sports fan to appreciate it. They also do a good job of mixing in the right amount of humor into the tale to keep it from becoming too heavy handed. The production is first rate with great locations, a good 50’s looking setting, and an excellent score. It all comes together to make this ESPN Original Entertainment production a movie worth checking out. The final product is, almost in a sense, a war film with the Junction Boys as the survivors.

The Extras:
The extras on this DVD do an excellent job of expanding on the film:

“SportsCentury” feature on Paul Bear Bryant – This 45 minute documentary features the life and career of Bear Bryant. His friends, family, and colleagues talk about him from his early, rough childhood to his death a mere 28 days after retirement. Like the film, this documentary doesn’t pull any punches. As many people as there are singing his praises, there are people saying how bad he could be. While he was a womanizer and a drinker, they also make a point of saying how he secretly looked after the welfare of his students and how he wouldn’t compromise when it came to academics. It’s also interesting to see how his intense desire to win pushed him to racially integrate his team in Alabama in the 60’s. This film features interviews with Joe Namath, Gene Stallings, and other sports figures you’ll recognize. While “The Junction Boys” focuses on his early years at Texas A&M, this documentary focuses on his career at Alabama. It’s an excellent biography and one you’ll want to view after seeing the movie.

“Outside the Lines: The Real Junction Boys” – This 45 minute video focuses on the true Junction Boys story. It has interviews with some of the surviving players as well as some writers who have detailed what really happened. It’s quite interesting to hear the real Junction Boys sort fact from fiction in the movie. They have no problem saying the head-butt featured in the film didn’t happen. The author of the book also fires back saying they have bad memories. It’s quite surprising to see them go back and forth on what was real and what was embellished. They also discuss the players who walked away from the training camp and their feelings towards Bryant. It’s not surprising to hear that some of them had a lasting hatred for their coach. Overall it’s a quite revealing story about what happened there and it’s also required viewing for those that watch the film.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re a sports fan, a Bear Bryant fan, or a Texas Aggie, this film is a required addition to your DVD collection. Even if you’re not any of these, you should find The Junction Boys to be a first rate drama well worth checking out.

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