‘When the Game Stands Tall’ and Other Tall Tales

If you’re looking for another inspirational football movie, Thomas Carter’s “When the Game Stands Tall” — which was released in theaters last Friday — might be what you’re looking for.

Based on “Contra Costa Times’” Neil Hayes’ 408-page book, “When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football’s Longest Winning Streak,” the film follows inspirational Hall of Fame high school head football coach Bob Ladouceur.

Ladouceur coached the De La Salle Spartans for 34 seasons, winning 399 games in his career before retiring last year. He’s also the only football coach to coach a team through a 151 to 0 winning record — one that exceeds many NCAA Division I college winning streaks including the University of Oklahoma Sooners (47), the University of Washington Huskies (39), the Yale University Bulldogs (37) and the University of Toledo Rockets (35).

Played by Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”), Ladouceur is a humble and religious coach and teacher. But he’s no Erin Grunell of “Freedom Writers.” And these kids aren’t the poor, disadvantaged students struggling with gang violence. These kids are part of a legacy that’s won 151 games in a row. These kids are the best of the best — Roman Catholic private school boys. Their ranks included Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward, Oakland Raiders halfback Maurice Jones-Drew, New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toome and New York Jets guard Dave Loverne. These kids aren’t underdogs.

Doused with an extra dose of Hollywood drama, the film follows the De La Salle Spartans of Concord, Calif., through the end of their 2003 season and throughout their 2004 season. This includes the shooting and death of promising De La Salle High School football alum T.K. Kelly (played by Stephan James) and Ladouceur’s heart attack. Most notable that year though, on September 4, 2004, the Spartans flew too close to the sun and lost their streak; Bellevue High School of Seattle, Wash., beat the Spartans 39-20.

Although these kids aren’t inherent underdogs, Carter’s film, which was written by Scott Marshall Smith and David Zelon, blatantly manipulates our emotions. Chris Ryan (a fictional character played by Alexander Ludwig of “The Hunger Games”) was created for this purpose; his back story: an over-bearing verbally abusive car salesman dad (Clancey Brown) obsessed with De La Salle’s Streak.

This emotional manipulation extends beyond the embellishments in “When the Game Stands Tall’s” screenplay. Filmed by Michael Lohmann and edited by Scott Richter, “When the Game Stands Tall” and its Hollywood makeover transforms the true story into an 115-minute soap opera.

John Paseano’s extravagant over-the-top score also acts like a reality TV soundtrack, giving you little cues on how to feel (because musical cues are required to help you sympathize with the Spartans’ plight).

The film contains some brilliant editing though. Combined, the work of Carter, Lohmann, Richter and Paseano make these 18-year-olds look like giants. Ludwig looks especially heroic as he’s outrunning players and scoring touchdowns. The game between the De La Salle High School Spartans versus the Long Beach Polytechnic High School Jackrabbits is especially heart-pounding. The real game between the Spartans and Jackrabbits was played in 2001 before the Spartans lost the Streak.

“When the Game Stands Tall” may stretch the truth, but it’s an enjoyable film. Stick around for the credits and you’ll see footage of the real Bob Ladouceur and the De La Salle High School Spartans.

“When the Game Stands Tall” was directed by Thomas Carter and written by Scott Marshall Smith and David Zelon.

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