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What happens when sports’ greatest winning streak ends?

Kevin Chill Heard | 8/22/2014, 2:31 p.m.
The new film “When the Game Stands Tall,” chronicles the true story of Coach Ladouceur and his leadership style that ...

Movie Review: 'When the Game Stands Tall'

By KEVIN CHILL HEARD

@houseofchill

They’ve called it “The greatest sports story ever told;” and if numbers never lie, the story about the ridiculously long winning streak held by the De La Salle High School Spartans football team should easily qualify for such a designation.

The new film “When the Game Stands Tall,” chronicles the true story of Coach Ladouceur (more affectionately known as Coach Lad) played by Jim Caviezel and his leadership style that led a high school football team to the greatest winning streak in American sports history – 12 straight state championships and 151 wins in a row. Yes, in case that’s not spelled out for you, that’s 12 years of never losing a single game.

As the film begins, the 2003 Spartans team has just concluded another perfect season and “The Streak” has become a part of the town’s fabric. “Keep the streak alive” isn’t just a rallying cry, it’s an expectation.

As the winning seniors leave the field, they pass the torch to the underclassmen who now are expected to continue in the footsteps of players who have not just left the field for the season, but for seasons that went back to when these underclassmen were in diapers. Much is expected of them to say the least.

The pressure to keep the streak going is tempered by the De La coaching staff led by Coach Lad and assistant coach Terry Eidson (Michael Chiklis). Instead of adding to their athletic angst by pushing an agenda to live up to past accomplishments, Coach Lad drops jewels such as, “Winning a lot of football games is doable. Teaching kids there’s more to life, that’s hard.”

And it’s a good thing the staff of adults that lead these young men into football games and the game of life have such evolved high standards that teach them how to play and live, because unfortunately the streak is not in their future.

From the very outset, this new set of Spartans is faced with hardships and roadblocks, even before the season begins.

Yeah, Coach Lad was right; the hard part for these young men was going to be how to survive things other than a streak. But still, how do young men survive being the ones responsible for losing a town’s identity? Such is the task being told in one of the most outstanding sports stories captured on film in recent cinematic history.

Along for the ups and downs of this season of dreams and nightmares is Laura Dern as Bev Ladouceur, Coach Lad’s loving and concerned wife. While her husband sees coaching high school football as his mission in life, she sees it as the fading future of possible greener and more lucrative pastures. With his stellar record and reputation, Coach Lad has received many offers to coach college football. To heck with fiscal wealth and physical health, Coach Lad is stubbornly anchored to the De La Salle program even if it kills him.

In addition to being the football coach, he also teaches religion class, a subject he not only talks the talk about, but walks the walk as well. And for the record, Coach Lad will need all the faith he can get.

As much as “When the Game Stands Tall” is about football, it’s about father and son relationships. One domineering dad (played by Clancy Brown) is hell-bent on pushing his son Chris (Alexander Ludwig) into breaking a state record, while Coach Lad himself has to deal with being a father to his own son who plays on the team.

Two of the standout performances are turned in by Joe Massingill as the gentle-giant “Beaser” and Ser’Darius Blain as Cam.

When the whole story is told “When the Game Stands Tall” stands out as one of the most admirable efforts of the movie season.

This film is rated PG by the MPAA for Thematic material, a scene of violence and brief smoking and opens nationwide this Friday, Aug. 22.