We Are Marshall

We Are Marshall (2006)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, Ian McShane
Extras: Featurette, Theatrical Trailer

"We Are Marshall" is a film directed by McG, whose previous credits include both "Charlie's Angels" films and lots of music videos. In this film, he is obviously branching out into different territory, and when it works, it can be quite good. The film seemed to be a guaranteed hit, and was number 1 opening weekend. No doubt helped along by a truly great trailer, not to mention the popularity of one of its main subjects, football.

The film is based on the tragic true story of the Marshall University team that was flying back to Huntington, West Virginia from an away game against East Carolina. The plane, filled with coaches, team members, fans and others crashed, killing all seventy five aboard and nearly paralyzed the entire town in mourning. The plane crash and the dramatic aftermath and its effect on the different residents are quite dramatic and effective. A smaller community of 50,000, the tragedy affected almost everyone on a personal level, and the film is in many ways about how they all try to cope with the disaster in their own ways.

It is decided by the leaders of the community, lead by University President Dedmon (David Strathairn) and Paul Griffen (Ian McShane from the excellent "Deadwood"), that to continue the football program would be next to impossible since it would not only open wounds, but most of the football team and coaches died in the crash. When this is revealed to the remaining players, a movement begins, led with intense passion by Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie) to get the team started again by any means necessary. In one of the more powerful scenes, virtually the entire city stages a rally outside of the building where a closed meeting of the cities leaders has convened to finalize the fate of the football team's immediate future. Ruffin bursts in, makes the cities leaders look out the window, and when they do they are greeted to hundreds of the towns residents chanting, "We Are Marshall!" Somehow, this works instantly, and the decision is made to try to get the team going again. But there will be some serious roadblocks.

Finding a coach to take on the monumental task of leading a team of mostly freshmen after a tragedy has taken so many lives proves to be a daunting task for Dedmon, until one day he receives a response and drives two hundred miles away to meet the charismatic family man Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey). While not an alumni of the school, Jack has decided the town needs his special skills to heal, and when Dedmon discovers this, he gets the job. Lengyel is almost insanely good natured and seems to have an obsessive need to help this city rebuild its team. At once quirky and prone to dramatic inspirational speeches, McConaughey really creates a likeable character, one that inspires and challenges those around him to push themselves. He has the zeal and ferver of a used car salesman, but he always manages to win everyone over in the end because of his almost supernatural good nature. Either way, although he may be guilty of overacting at times, he really nails the role.

Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) is tortured by survivors' guilt since he was one of the assistant coaches that was supposed to be on the plane that fateful evening. Since the tragedy he has become something of a recluse, until Jack decides to pay him a visit. He ends up talking him into taking the challenge of rebuilding the fallen team. So all of the pieces seem to be falling together, now all they need is to find some actual football players. These two actors are really great together, and it is obvious they bonded during their time together making the film. Matthew Fox does a great job convincing us of the tortured Red Dawson, and he turns in an electrifying and emotional performance that actually surprised me, although I was already impressed with his amazing series, "Lost".

Together, these two are box office gold, and they truly turn what could otherwise have been an over-budgeted TV Movie of the week into something special. Dawson's bleakness is constantly put into check by the hopeful never give up attitude of Lengyel. Having this guy around all the time would be like having a self help guru/personal trainer nagging you constantly.

We also have two side stories, one involving a waitress, Annie Cantrell (Kate Mara) who is grief stricken over the loss of her boyfriend. And another of the personal challenges of the freshmen football players and the pressure to succeed after Jack and Red convince the president to pursue an exception to let freshmen start the game. In a series of dramatic montages, we watch the team practice and struggle to become even halfway acceptable, until finally they get to play a game, which they lose. Many lose faith, but not Jack, failure seems to be this guy's fuel, and he comes up with some amazing motivational speeches, seemingly on a whim. Who does this guy think he is, Bono?

In a world that seems pulled together in times of tragedy by sporting events (Yankees after 9/11, New Orleans Saints after Katrina, Virginia tech after the shootings, not to mention the Iraqi soccer team victories), this film really won me over. Watching the Marshalls struggle to become a team again was a pleasure, even if it was a little over the top at times. At the beginning, I thought the epic style of directing was a little overly sentimental, my complaints soon dissolved as I got lost in the hopeful story. It's the performances that really save this one from certain traps, and I enjoyed it more than "Remember The Titans".

The inspirational tone and the underlying message are just so positive and uplifting, I can forgive some of its weaknesses. McG has directed it with style and this is a very expensive looking move, and I admire the very convincing way it succeeds in capturing the seventies. Now, if you go into this thinking there will be a lot of football action, there really isn't as much as you might expect, this film is mainly a character driven drama, so don't go in with false expectations.

The video output of this disc is an impressive 1080p anamorphic high definition transfer in a 2.4:1 aspect ratio, encoded using the VC-1 codec. Like I said this film is very expensive looking and very stylized, many times the image appears soft and the lighting can be dim, but this is all intentional. The film looks great and often pops off the screen, we also have many daytime scenes on the football field and the texture of the grass is amazing to behold. The costume design is also top notch and the fabrics are very detailed thanks to the enhanced image. This film truly benefits from high definition and I was impressed.

Thankfully, someone had the foresight to take a little extra care with the audio of this release and we have a wonderful and full sounding Dolby TrueHD track that truly complements the excellent visual quality of this disc. The football scenes come through with an extreme clarity and the sounds of the crowds are loud and very realistic. The musical score by Christoph Beck also comes through quite nicely and the film also has a great selection of classic rock tunes that sound great and are used very effectively. The dialog is very directional at all times and also comes through very cleanly, the surrounds are also very active at all times and the subwoofer actually gets a little workout during some of the football scenes.

I was a little surprised by the small amount of extras on this release, but I must say I'm not really disappointed, since the movie itself is really enough for me. What we do get, is

'Legendary Coaches: How Coaches Overcome Adversity' which runs about thirty five minutes and is narrated by McG. Interest in this may depend on how much you follow football or not, but I guess it is kind of interesting for what it's worth. I would have rather had a documentary about the tragedy or the college then and now, though. It is in anamorphic widescreen and is in 480i standard def, but really looks pretty good upconverted. The other so called extras are a well intentioned but failed attempt at advertising West Virginia called 'Marshall Now'. Where it goes wrong is in its presentation, it is windowboxed at 4:3 and it looks all stretched out and awful. You know, of all uses for high definition, advertising the beauty of your state could definitely be enhanced by the medium, strange they would overlook such a thing. We also have the films excellent trailer, but alas, it's also in standard (non anamorphic!) definition. You get the point, these special features aren't really special at all, but I forgive them, I'm not really that into special features anyway, in many cases.

So, if you are looking for an inspirational film that looks and sounds excellent, you can't go wrong with this Blu-Ray Disc. Matthew Fox is going to be a movie star and Matthew McConaughey is excellent as always. I'm glad I gave it a chance, it won me over in the end.