When it comes to movies, I’m a fan of rules. I would like them on Facebook. I probably have liked them on Facebook; I just forgot. They are simply standards that a genre should follow, not necessarily to be like other films in the genre, but just a general “this is how you make it at least par the hole,” like “Cookies don’t require vinegar” is a rule. Nothing’s stopping anybody, it’s just common sense. There are always exceptions, like for my rom-com rule; The Break-Up and 500 Days of Summer would be exceptions.
Sports movies have a rule too: They are never actually about the sport they focus on. Remember the Titans is a football movie that’s not about football; it’s about overcoming prejudice. Field of Dreams is a baseball movie that’s not about baseball; it’s about a man’s journey to follow his heart and have a little faith. Cinderella Man is a boxing movie that’s not about boxing; it’s about how a town was uplifted by a man who overcame impossible odds. It’s creative smoke and mirrors, but the great sports movies focus on the lives and the communities they change and impact, NOT the sport itself. Like Invictus before it, We Are Marshall wanted to follow this rule and failed miserably.
Starting by telling the tragic story of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team who all died one night in a horrible plane crash, We Are Marshall wasted its time focusing on the pale stories of the 3-4 people who directly impacted the organization and completely forgot that there was an entire town of grieving residents that probably could have made this movie appear like it really gave a shit. Headed up by new coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), a dunce of a man who doesn’t understand loss (in game and out) and talks out of one side of his mouth like he’s always sucking on a cigar, the faithful of the Thundering Herd who believe that last thing this town needs is an off season band together to fight off rules, bureaucracy, and their own grief to recruit a shitty football team that “brings everyone together.”
Problem is, it doesn’t bring anybody together. You lose 77 people on a plane: aspiring students, coaches, civilians, it does a lot more than inspire the need to constantly scream “I can’t believe they’re gone, is trying to move on the right thing to do?” It rips apart a community, a student body, friends, family, I’ve suffered this recently. It’s hard to know the steps to take or if they should be taken, but Marshall forgets these feelings and says “we gotta have a football team.” It doesn’t do a good job of showing you why, abusing the cliché “everybody meet me outside and start chanting something for some reason” without telling them “it’s to get our football team back,” ‘cause somehow I bet it wouldn’t have had that good of a turn out then and once that’s over, it’s all about the team.
Building the team, coaching the team, putting the team on the field, winning with the team, accepting losing with the team, team, team, team! Football! Football! Football! If it weren’t for Assistant Coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) crying every five seconds, Marshall probably would have forgotten why it was playing in the first place and for that, it breaks the rule. ‘Cause when all the challenges were overcome and the team got on the field, you felt nothing. No satisfaction, no redemption, no sense of victory. You just watch a crappy team play an offense the movie spent way too much time trying to perfect.
There was still enough power and drama in this movie to make it worth the watch, but the overall story, a story that is one of the saddest in history, just felt uninspired. Hell, even The Mighty Ducks made their sappily-orchestrated rise to victory MEAN something and there was a sense of pride there, but in this, there wasn’t at all. The characters were either ignorant or whiny; none of them seemed true to form. It constantly referenced “the community was suffering” but never showed that suffering; just showed them partying on the big day, like saying “your newly ex-girlfriend is suffering” by drinking and sleeping with all the guys you thought she was cheating on you with which caused the break-up to happen in the first place for “trust issues.”
We Are Marshall just struggled. It had such an easy downhill ride but just slipped and slid face first into a curb and just didn’t feel right after that (for those who follow my day-to-day, this line made me feel so much better). It wasn’t inspiring or deep, it didn’t feel meaningful or impactful. It was just there. I had much higher expectations of this movie and was disappointed. I give We Are Marshall an unenthused 7 dustbusters out of 10.