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We Are Marshall (5/10)

by Tony Medley

This succumbs to the fault in many modern movies, it is too long and slow. For a sports movie to be slow is the kiss of death. This one drags on for 125 minutes, and it’s mostly talk, despite the presence of the brilliant sports-action coordinator, Mark Ellis.

Directed by McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol), who is responsible for the dreadful “Charley’s Angels” films, with a script by Jamie Linden (with a “story by” credit to Linden and Cory Helms), this takes a full forty minutes to set up. That’s right, star Matthew McConaughey, who plays the hero, Coach Jack Lengyel, doesn’t appear until 40 minutes after the opening titles.

This is the story of what happened after the entire Marshall University football team (except two players who didn’t make the trip, and one coach) was killed in a plane crash returning from a game on November 14, 1970. Tragic as that was, it shouldn’t take more than 30% of the movie to set up the real story (nor should it take 125 minutes to tell the story).

Despite opposition from his board, university president Donald Dedmond (David Strathairn, who gave such a compelling performance as Edward R. Murrow in 2005’s “Good Night and Good Luck”) looks for a coach and only finds one person who wants the job, Lengyel, an assistant coach at Wooster College in Ohio.

Lengyel is an upbeat, optimistic type who is always looking on the bright side, which he must because he has no players. Although the filmmakers did a yeoman’s job recreating the styles and fashions of the ‘70s, they jumped the gun a little. All the plaids and polyesters Lengyel wears didn’t come into full ‘70s disco-style for a few more years, not in 1971. In addition, McConaughey has a “Miami Vice” two day growth of beard throughout the entire film. That style would have been frowned upon in 1971. Further, for some reason, McConaughey talks out of the side of his mouth. His smile is out of the side of his mouth. I’ve never seen the real Lengyel in person (he is in the Hall of Fame as he was Athletic Director for the Naval Academy for 13 years after leaving Marshall), but I’ve seen pictures of him and he doesn’t have a crooked smile. I’m not sure why McConaughey adopted that affect, but I found it annoying.

As usual in any film in which Mark Ellis is involved (“Miracle” 2004, “Invincible” 2006), the action sequences are realistic. Ellis chooses the athletic extras like an NFL tryout camp, and the results show the effort. Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough actions scenes in the movie, which is dominated by dialogue.

The job that Lengyel did at Marshall is admirable, certainly ripe fodder for a movie. Unfortunately, I found this movie to be too long and too talky.

December 22, 2006