Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
Last year, Disney had a hit with both the critics and the moviegoers alike; Million Dollar Arm was an underdog Sports Movie based on a true story that I found very entertaining. Hoping for the same or greater success with a similar thematic premise, Disney has released McFarland. The result? It’s a Winner!
Kevin Costner plays Jim White, a High School Football Coach who has difficulties holding onto jobs due to anger management issues. Fired once again, he and his Wife and Daughters move to McFarland, California – a small Town predominantly populated by Latinos- where he is reluctantly hired as the Assistant Football Coach. It does not go well at first. The restaurant the Family goes to does not serve hamburgers, only unfamiliar Mexican delicacies. The High School Principal and Teachers regard him with great skepticism and the Football Players take great joy in addressing him by his ironic surname. But Jim White is impressed with the speed and stamina of many of the Latino Players and ultimately decides to form a Cross Country Running Team with hope of competing at the state level.
McFarland succeeds on many levels. There is not an A-List Actor who can consistently shine consistently shines in Sports Movies more than Kevin Costner. His performance here is beautifully nuanced. Costner portrays all the complexities of his Character (anger, fear, pride, stubbornness, insecurity, jubilation) with such mastery, it may be overlooked just how great his performance is. Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) wisely-populated the Movie with a wonderful Supporting Cast of relative-Unknowns in nearly all the Supporting Roles as to not distract from the Story.
The young Men who play the Runners, many of them first time actors, are completely believable and shine brightly in their roles with humour, grace and confidence. The standout performance here comes from Carlos Pratt as the Running Team Captain. Kudos also go to the Screenwriters for fashioning an uplifting Piece without being ever feeling preachy. This is a Movie where Caucasians are in the minority and, in lesser hands, it could have turned into a cliche lesson of ‘us versus them’. The humour throughout is gentle and real and the struggles some of the Characters cope with and triumph over on a daily basis with are dealt with honestly. If there is a fault in McFarland, it is the tragically underwritten Role of Jim’s Wife. Maria Bello can always be counted-on to deliver and when she’s on-screen she is given minimal screen time and little do to when she’s on it.
McFarland is inspiring and entertaining. Run out and see it!
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada release MCFARLAND Friday, February 20, 2015.