We Are Marshall Review: Good But Not Great
by Alex Billington
December 21, 2006
This late-in-the-year football film is the true story of a town devastated when their entire football team was killed in a plane crash, and the story of one man who steps in to rebuild the team and to bring the town from sadness back into hope. Although full of passion from the actors, director McG doesn't stray too far from his roots in the world of music videos and delivers a film much less than what it should have been.
We Are Marshall is about the town of Huntington, West Virginia, the home of Marshall University and its celebrated football program. After a loss to East Carolina, all the Marshall players and coaches except assistant coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) board a flight back to Huntington. In a tragic accident the plane crashes just minutes from landing killing everyone on board, an event which left the town and its residents in ruin. The university's president, Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn), is about to suspend the football program for the rest of the season, but player Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie), who stayed home due to an injury, won't let him do so. An open coaching job is put out and Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) from Ohio takes on the job, trying to bring a team together and to memorialize the football team that the town had loved so much.
There are some truly amazing moments found throughout, alone worth their time, but they play to the PG-rating. With younger audiences this isn't problematic, but it isn't beneficial to the film at all. I enjoyed the funny, even light-hearted, chemistry between President Dedmon and Coach Lengyel, and I thought this movie compares favorably to many sports dramas with a reverence for their subject. That said, this is no Miracle, and it doesn't top Invincible as the best sports movie of the year. The most deeply earnest performances came from the most deeply affected characters - Nate Ruffin, played by Anthony Mackie, and Red Dawson, played by Matthew Fox. Although Matthew McConaughey gave a great portrayal, he was too unsettlingly comedic as a character to strengthen the film as its leader.
McG and his music video background are not suited well for We Are Marshall; I still think he should stick to fluffier stuff like his debut Charlie's Angels. McG's hip filmmaking style and frisky camerawork feel out of place in a film set in 1970, and they particularly ruin the football scenes with quick cuts and fades. He has yet to work out the differences between directing full length features and directing three-minute music videos. Although there are some truly touching moments exploring the life of everyone affected, both in the film and in the real world, the remainder is a music video stretched at length. This movie comes from Hollywood, not the heart, with a hollow feeling that belies its setting in an old-fashioned college football town.
We Are Marshall is not one of the best sports dramas this year, or even of the past few years, but does express quite a bit of passion in its filmmaking and acting. Director McG is still far behind in his ability to create a feature-length film; he needs to stop dreaming about music videos and to think more about a theatrical film in his next endeavor. We Are Marshall does have some touching moments and some great performances, notably from Anthony Mackie and Matthew Fox. It delivers an enjoyable experience at least once in theaters, but its storytelling will not hold up under repeated viewing.