Against all odds, We Are Marshall is a good movie. It somehow overcomes a predominant chance of cheese and the long and tired road of the “underdog” sports movie to achieve something better. It’s the rare “true story” that ends up actually feeling pretty true, it doesn’t fall into the trap of say, combining years worth of games into one epic season or anything so preposterous (Ahem, Glory Road, your table is waiting).
The story is based on a tragic historic event. In 1970 the Marshall football team was returning from a game against East Carolina when their plane crashed, killing almost all of the team, as well as supporters and coaches. Upon these ashes the university, with a no small amount of lobbying from one of the players who wasn’t on the plane, elected to try and field a team for the following season. Things aren’t smooth or easy as the effort of healing a community isn’t something you can just get a first down and achieve. We Are Marshall does a great job of realizing its own limitations in that respect.
Matthew McConaughey plays the coach hired to field the new football team. One quick aside regarding McConaughey, why hasn’t he ever played a villain? Here he’s the off kilter comic relief, a role that suits him to a tee but certainly doesn’t stretch him even a little. Admittedly, he’s good, a strange comic relief role that the movie is much the better for but I still can’t help feeling Matt a great and evil role out there waiting for him. Official Matt advice over.
Now, as for the movie, the fantastic thing about it is that it sticks to the truth, will all its warts, and it doesn’t fall into the trap of asking for too much too soon. The initial tragedy is handled wonderfully, preferring class over shock value. Matthew Fox plays an assistant coach who was with the original team (he didn’t get on the flight) and he gives a nuanced and compelling performance. Two Matthew’s, two good performances. Another great feature re: Fox’s character is how the story ends up. I’ll never spoil (of course) but I appreciated the authentic plot strand.
We Are Marshall is on par with Miracle for me, and way ahead of nasties like Invincible. It does the little things that sports films usually miss. Sure, I could knock it for the one silly inspirational speech, or the few times where it goes for “Hollywood Movie” but I’m not going to (unless I just did). The football action is extremely well filmed, the tight spiral of the football against a blue sky has never looked so good. Is it a little sad? Yep. Is it a little uplifting? Certainly. Is it worth seeing? As I said before, against all odds, yes.