Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie Review: "When the Game Stands Tall"

FILM: When the Game Stands Tall, Special Movie Edition: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football's Longest Winning Streak
PRODUCER: Mandalay and Affirm Films, Sony Pictures, 2014.

"It's not about you. It's about the person next to you." This is the underlying theme for this very touching film about honour, teamwork, camaraderie, dreams, perseverance, fearlessness, faith, and several other virtues.

When The Game Stands Tall is based on a true story of football coach, Bob Ladouceur, who accomplished what no one else had ever done before: Taking De La Salle High School Spartans to a record-breaking 151-game winning streak. With several actors openly Christian, the movie includes themes dealing with the importance of mentorship, team work, overcoming life challenges, family, dealing with fear, selflessness and determination.

Beginning with how the Spartans broke the 150-game streak, viewers are introduced to the meaning of honour. Winning feels good but the resulting behaviour out of the winning can also brings out the bad. Like the mad fans who boast of a streak 2.0; or the father so focused on his son winning a record number of touchdowns that it was no longer about his son, but about his self-promotion. Often, the best schools of learning is the school of hard knocks and steep falls. That was what the members of the De La Salle High School football team felt. There was no other way in which they can learn humility, camaraderie, honour, family, brotherhood, hard work, respect for their competitors, and grace. There are several gems in the movie. One of my favourites is when assistant coach reminded them:

"Don't let a game define who you are. Let the life you live do that."

Football fans in general will love this film, as it is a story which captures the ecstatic heights of winning and the pathetic lows of losing. Strategizing, teamwork, motivation, and many other team building words and exercises surround the whole film. Behind them all, viewers will sense the tight connections between family and the individual members, how one affects the other. The results can bring about the best of people. It can also bring about the worst. For non-football fans, there are at least three other reasons to watch this.

First, it is good clean entertainment. There are many movies out of Hollywood that liberally uses the F-word, swearing, gruesome violence, and of course, sexually charged. This film is none of that. Parents can be free to bring their kids, especially those in high school age, to watch this film about growing up. If it is both entertainment as well as education for life, why not?

Second, life is not about us, but often about the people around us. We have heard so often that individualism is bad for our society. We need more community. We need to be team players. We need to build neighbourliness. What is often said in theory is not equally matched in practice. Thus we have our individual toys to play with, to do our own stuff, to care for our own interests. Self-interests easily reign in many societies. Even commercials tend to bluff us into thinking that we are the most important person in the world. This movie cuts through all the individualism and selfishness, and replace them with passionate togetherness and inter-dependency. Note how the football team players come together when one of their members died in a tragic and senseless shooting.

Third, everyone of us needs to learn what it means to grow up. It is nice to have fun and to play games. Yet, life is not a game. Life is a journey. It is about us being transformed into better people, and in the process, as we lice to learn, we also learn to live. Even for those of us who call ourselves adults, we may have missed out learning opportunities in our growing up years. Perhaps, this movie can help fill those gaps as much as possible, or to motivate us to learn, and to leave a legacy of what we stand for.

This film once again bucks the trend of selling superficial sex and wanton violence. It digs below the layers of superficiality to help us discover our true selves, what we stand for, and more importantly, who we live for. Invite your friends. Have a movie night. Bring the film to your communities, your churches, your youth groups, and your schools. It is that good.


  • Movie resources (link)
  • Youtube (link)
  • Conversation Starters pdf (link)
  • Student Action kit pdf (link)
  • Movie scenes for teaching/learning (link)


This film preview is provided to me courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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