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We Are Marshall

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Mcgonahey gives the best performance of his career in We Are Marshall. Read on:

Sometimes when I watch a film like We Are Marshall I realize that one day I might have to give up on this business of being a film critic. The reason I say that, and the reason that movies like this one instigate that thought, is because I love them. But more than that, they appeal to something universal in all of us, and require no interpretation or examination to enjoy. As such, serious folks like my esteemed colleagues rarely take them seriously and usually take folks who do take them seriously… well, even less seriously.

But McG’s third film shows a major move forward for him as a director. Previously helming movies whose emotional weight was mostly derived from the bounce in Cameron Diaz’ boy shorts, the director demonstrates that he can indeed make a movie — albeit a mainstream one — that manages to evoke something other than euphoria and/or motion sickness (and in the best moments, both at once). Because as cheesy as it may sound, McG has crafted a movie that really does stir some serious feelings. Specifically, it’s the kind of movie that not only believes in the goodness of humankind, but makes you believe it, too.

The film stars Matthew McConaghey, himself an actor of questionable reliability, as Jack Lengyel — a football coach who offers to help rebuild Marshall University’s team after its players die in a plane crash. Soliciting the school’s president Donald Dedmond (David Strathairn) as well as surviving assistant coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) to help him, Lengyel begins to put together a group of kids he hopes will return the team to glory, if only to fill the gap in the townspeople’s lives. But what he and his colleagues soon discover is that their struggle fills a spot in their hearts as well. And so Lengyel, Dedmond and Dawson champion their fledgling team of freshmen and a few upperclassmen to prove that in some cases, winning isn’t everything as long as you are able to play the game.

There’s a certain point at which critics either have to yield to the fact that they don’t mind formulas, or rebel against them no matter how many warm and fuzzy impulses prod them towards enjoyment. Sports movies in particular are the most guilty of submitting to these conventions, but seldom do I mind – and nor should you – if they are executed well. Perhaps because he trafficked so easily through the various genre-bending sequences in Charlie’s Angels, McG expertly navigates the well-worn tale of a team, or even a town, looking for redemption after a loss. The difference here, of course, is that the back-story is a true one, and the events in the film are taken from things that really happened. But the director perfectly emphasizes the right notes of this familiar tune to make sure that it feels fresh.

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