Single Person’s Movie: We Are Marshall

It’s 2 a.m. and you awake with a jerk, alone in your fully lit apartment and still on the couch. On TV, the credits of some movie you’ve already seen a billion times are scrolling by. It feels like rock bottom. And we know, because we’re just like you: single.

Need a movie to keep you company until you literally can’t keep your eyes open? Join us tonight when we pass out to We Are Marshall [starting @ 11:45 p.m. on Action Max]

Why we’ll try to stay up and watch it: Football movies are, by their very definition, clichés. What separates the wheat from the chaff within the genre is how each goes about getting from point A to point B. Some films, like Friday Night Lights, happily embrace the predictable conventions before pulling the rug out from under the audience. In Peter Berg’s mostly forgotten gem, everything happens like you would expect–the setbacks, the inspirational speeches, the key injuries–yet when it seems like the good guys will still prevail amidst all the adversity, they lose the final game.

There are no genre revisions in We Are Marshall. The film is a slick football flick, and even if you haven’t seen it before, you’ve seen it before. The amazingly melodramatic score by Christophe Beck, which alternates between weeping reverence and triumphant bombast; the absurdly inspirational speech that could rattle the cage of even the most stone-hearted person (we’ll get to it in a bit); the last-second win during the big game. It’s all here and all celebrated. Where We Are Marshall has an edge over other films is its true story: in 1970, while traveling back home from North Carolina to West Virginia, a plane carrying 75 members of the Marshall University football team, including 37 players, crashed. There were no survivors. Decimated, the university rebuilt their program with the help of new coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) and assistant William “Red” Dawson (Matthew Fox). Needless to say, they succeeded.

At first thought, Mr. McConaughey seems like a terrible casting choice to play a football coach; his laid-back stoner personality doesn’t translate to being a leader of men. But as Coach Lengyel, he stomps around hunched over and wild-eyed, chewing scenery like a happy-go-lucky version of Daniel Day-Lewis at the end of There Will Be Blood. It’s really the best non-Wooderson performance of his career. And as his right-hand man, Mr. Fox uses his go-to-move, the half-cry, to tremendous effect. His not-quite-tearful breakdown during the last 10 minutes would make Dr. Jack Shephard proud.

When we’ll probably fall asleep: The rousing speech before the big game. It’s as American as apple pie and government bailouts. But, unlike so many other football films, We Are Marshall doesn’t restrict this well-worn feature to the locker room. Instead, it happens at the cemetery where six unidentified members of the Marshall Thundering Herd are buried. Seriously! We’re tearing up just thinking about it. About an hour and a half into the movie at 1:15 a.m., Coach Lengyel will tell his players that “funerals end today” as the score swells up behind his words. We’ll cheer (and cry) and quite possibly run a lap around our block. Then, we’ll pass out … happy, inspired and ready to take on the world come Friday morning.

Single Person’s Movie: We Are Marshall