I try to pride myself on understanding the history of sports. While I can never know everything, the deeper knowledge I have of the past of any major sport goes a long way into me analyzing athletics today. Yet while I knew a bit about the plane crash with Marshall University, it wasn’t nearly as much as I should have. In fact I currently think of the school more as an average mid-major with some great stars here and there. But when you watch “We Are Marshall,” you see how deep football goes into that community.
After a tight loss in the 1970 season, tragedy strikes the Thundering Herd as their plane full of players, coaches and fans crashes in the middle of the night. The film does a great job of illustrating the scary scene with all the fire and plane pieces lying around along with the fear that the beloved football team was aboard. In fact the first 30 minutes or so are very strong with both the crash and aftermath really depressing you. I mean how could such a tight-knit community carry on?
After almost suspending the team, the President decides to keep the football program alive and brings in Coach Jack Lengyel. Portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, the new Coach is quite different with very odd antics and unorthodox stories in a pretty conservative community. Yet while I like the change of culture, McConaughey’s acting can be a bit much. Sometimes he is just too odd and it becomes difficult to then take him seriously. You can be inventive as well as different but not necessarily wacky.
After getting destroyed in their first game, Marshall goes through a very intense week where all the pain from the plane crash really comes to the forefront with players and coaches starting to lose their heads. Of course the film follows the stereotypical sports movie structure as everyone comes around at the same time for a winning ending. It’s cliché (yet true) but it does help give a sense of closure after the earlier tragedy.
However the main issue with “We Are Marshall” is that it’s just solid. I mean by no means is this a bad movie but it isn’t that memorable. Sure it’s darker than many other sports movies and it seems to follow the real events pretty well but I didn’t walk away really remembering it. The film is entertaining enough for one viewing but nowhere near being a classic sports film.
I think one of the shortcomings is that there are too many characters and also stories. The tragedy affected many but some of these characters don’t really do anything throughout yet show up enough times to make you think they’re necessary. Whether it’s the broadcaster’s son, a former teammate or fiancé, they don’t really add anything substantial. Plus Coach Red Dawson seems to change his mind every 20 minutes.
In the end, “We Are Marshall” is a fine movie that does help you understand how important that school is to the community. You may learn something you didn’t know beforehand and walk away with a positive feeling after such a tragic event. But there are certainly better options out there. The film is much like how the team is seen today.