“I’m guessing running is the best thing you’ve got. Me too,” says Coach White (Kevin Costner) to his fastest runner Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) as he tries to convince him to get off the bridge above the highway and rejoin the track team in the inspirational dramatic film McFarland, USA.
In 1987, Jim White moved his family to the small farm town of McFarland, California to take the only job he could get as a P.E. teacher. One day while White has his students running laps, he and his youngest daughter Jamie (Elsie Fisher) notice that four of the kids are much faster than the others. Seeing real potential and talent in them and a way for himself to become a coach again, White convinces the principal of the school to help him create a cross country team.
Teaching and training his chosen seven athletes about the sport and learning about it himself as well, White begins to get more involved in the lives of the young men and their families than he ever expected to, all while reconnecting with his own family. It’s not long before White realizes that his cross country track team just might have what it takes to be contenders for the championship.
Based on a true story, Disney’s McFarland, USA is a charming, inspirational though by-the-numbers, classic underdog film that works beautifully. Kevin Costner delivers his best performance in years as White, a washed-up coach who finds purpose and himself again in a small farm town creating and coaching the cross country team. It’s perhaps his finest performance since Field of Dreams.
Maria Bello is solid as his loving and at times nagging wife who backs her husband in his decisions but struggles to try to get him to stop taking his family for granted. It’s obvious that the seven newcomers to film portraying White’s athletes are not professional actors and yet they all do a good enough job up on the screen to have the audience laughing and rooting for them as they try to beat the odds and become champions. Two of the young men, Carlos Pratts and Ramiro Rodriguez, are stand-outs of the group.
The film does get at times dangerously close to being too cheesy and sentimental, in particular the scene where a colleague of White’s reads him a paper one of his athletes wrote for a school assignment describing how running and competing has changed his outlook on life and himself. The movie’s pacing also starts to drag in the middle, focusing on the relationship of the White family and the town’s local citizens and their culture-clash.
Still, with a strong performance by Costner and an engaging story McFarland USA is a feel-good sports film not to be missed.
– Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
Running time: 128 minutes
Release date: February 20, 2015
MPAA rating: PG for thematic material, some violence and language
– Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
Follow Us On: