The Source for Youth Ministry

Movie Reviews
by Jonathan McKee and Todd Pearage

We Are Marshall (9/18/2007)

Rated PG for emotional thematic material, a crash scene, and mild language.

Directed by McG (Charlie's Angels, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle)

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, David Strathairn, and Ian McShane

Jonathan's Rating: Theatre Worthy

Todd's Rating: Rental

We agree that the story behind We Are Marshall is powerful and inspiring.

JONATHAN’S WORD: I thought they pulled it off.

TODD’S WORD: Sorry, I didn’t think the movie lived up to the legacy.

That legacy is the true story of the 1970’s Marshall "Thundering Herd" football team. Marshall University is nestled in Huntington, WV, a town that loves and supports it‘s college football. For the residents of Huntington, it’s more than a game, it’s a way of life. So when the team’s plane crashed on a return trip from North Carolina, and 75 members of the team, coaches, athletic staff and prominent citizens died, the town must learn how to deal with tragedy. Feeling the pressure from parents and the community, and with only freshman (who are ineligible) and three injured players, Marshall's president Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) considered abandoning the football program. But the students of Marshall rally the cause and Dedmon begins the search for a new football coach. After an exhaustive search and everyone declining, Coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) accepts the job of rebuilding Marshall's football program.

TODD’S WORD: I love sports movies. Movies like Rudy, Miracle, and Remember the Titans that tell the story of underdogs; stories of hope, perseverance and overcoming the impossible. We Are Marshall certainly fits into that category, and although it comes close, in the end it just doesn’t measure up. Throughout the film I was left wanting more…more passion, more emotion, more football.

JONATHAN’S WORD: Are you sure that you didn’t accidentally wander into a different theatre? Were you watching Tranformers? Because, you’re right… Tranformers wasn’t a good football film.

TODD’S WORD: Nope. It was definitely We Are Marshall. Don’t get me wrong, a few moments rise above average, and the football action was pretty good. But it just never seemed to grab me and pull me in.

JONATHAN’S WORD: Did you ever play football?

TODD’S WORD: Of course I did.

JONATHAN’S WORD: How many blows to the head did you take?

TODD’S WORD: Obviously not enough

JONATHAN’S WORD: (sigh) I had the opposite experience in the film. The film really grabbed me. At the beginning, viewers might think, “Another football film.” But the film immediately does a 180 with the plane crash. That’s when the theme of the film really emerged. The film is really about healing.

It was nice that We Are Marshall didn’t just try to insert in a nice “after school special” message of “It doesn’t matter who wins or loses… it’s how you play the game.” We Are Marshall was one of the few films that convincingly portrayed where true victory lies. It doesn’t rest on the scoreboard. “Victory” was a town that was able to get back up after they had been hit hard.

The DVD features provided some great interviews. One such interview was with the real coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey’s character) He said it well. “One of the greatest lessons in athletics is to face adversity, get back up off the ground and go on to continued success. The fact that we ‘played the game’ and ‘we were back’ was a victory.”

I enjoyed this film because, yes, it had some really fun football moments… but like Remember the Titans, or even the more recent Grid Iron Gang, this film was about so much more than football.

TODD’S WORD: I’ll give you that.

But to be honest, I am not a fan of Matthew McConaughey. I think the last good movie he made was 2000’s U-571. So for me, I kept wondering is Coach Lengyel some crazy guy or is McConaughey being his usual over the top, goofy self.

JONATHAN’S WORD: I can’t disagree more. Although I’m not a big fan of Matthew McConaughey as a person, I love him as an actor. Yes, Hollywood often casts him into the typical prettyboy roles (it’s hard being pretty) like Failure to Launch, Sahara, or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. But Matthew has shown incredible diversity over the years, like Brad Pitt, proving himself to be much more than a pretty boy.

Yes, I liked the 2000 film U-571. But how could you possibly ignore Reign of Fire where Matthew co-starred with Christian Bale. Matthew was the highlight of that film in a role that was so far from anything he had done. I loved him in that movie, and I think he was really the highlight of We Are Marshall. He was peculiar and quirky, but also relational and real.

TODD’S WORD: Ring of Fire…are you serious? How many blows to the head did you take?

JONATHAN’S WORD: Touché. But my opinion stands. Reign of Fire rocked!

TODD’S WORD: Well, looking at the positive, for me the highlight of the film is a scene with Bobby Bowden (Mike Pniewski), the coach of rival West Virginia, who allows Lengyel and Red Dawson (Matthew Fox), the only Marshall coach who didn’t die in the crash, access to their films and playbook. It’s a powerful scene that reveals Bowden’s heart as he puts football in its proper priority.

JONATHAN’S WORD: I agree. That was a scene that started with humor and ended with heart—a great tool in writing I might add.

TODD’S WORD: We Are Marshall is not at all a terrible film, in fact I think it is worth watching, especially the DVD extras, but that’s just it, it is just worth watching. So rent it, just don’t expect too much.

JONATHAN’S WORD: We Are Marshall is much more than just “worth watching.” It will move you, it will make you laugh, and it will make you smile.

Although my six-year-old son is now a football player, I don’t think he is ready for this one quiet yet. The crash is scary in that it is only a flash but the themes of tragedy and coping are more adult and would be over his head. I think the 10+ audience would be fine watching it.

JONATHAN’S WORD: Hey, I finally agree with Todd! I think that I wouldn’t show this to under 10 year olds, not because of one intense scene (hardly intense), but because the film would simply be boring to really young kids. I showed it to my 10, 12 and 14 year old and the 10 year old enjoyed it, but was restless in parts.

Conversation Starter
Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):

  1. What are some of the messages or themes you observed in this movie?

  2. How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this movie?

  3. How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this movie to actually living out those opinions?

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

Todd Pearage Todd Pearage is a movie buff at heart, but he's not your traditional film critic. Todd is a blue collar film geek, from his job years ago at Blockbuster to his heartfelt online movie reviews. But Todd isn't just a film geek. He has worked with middle and high school students since 1991 as a youth pastor and is currently on staff at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Todd and his wife Lynda have three children, Brianna, Caleb and Addyson.

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