We Are Marshall
Directed By: McG
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, David Stratharin, Ian McShane, Anthony Mackie, Kate Mara, January Jones, Brian Geraghty
Nine months after its theatrical premiere, Warner Bros. Home Video are releasing "We Are Marshall" on DVD just in time to coincide with the kick-off of NCAA Football.
"We Are Marshall" is a dramatization of the aftermath of the plane crash that claimed the lives of 75 players, coaches, and supporters of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team in November of 1970. The University and close-knit town of Huntington, West Virginia are understandably shaken to their core by the tragic events. Some feel that the football program should be suspended for the 1971 season if not canceled altogether. Others feel that fielding a team is the best way to show respect for their fallen comrades. Still others are just looking for a way to work through their grief and piece their lives back together. The film focuses specifically on the stories of several people with close connections to the tragedy, including University President Donald Dedmon (Strathairn); surviving coach Red Dawson (Fox), who missed the plane after agreeing to a last second recruiting trip; prominent local citizen Paul Griffen (McShane), a widower who lost his son, Chris, the team's quarterback, in the crash; Annie Cantrell (Mara), Chris' fiancé; and surviving players who did not make the plane trip Nate Ruffin (Mackie) and Tom Bogdan (Geraghty). Eventually, the University's chances of fielding a team coalesce around Jack Lengyel (McConaughey), a mildly eccentric football coach with no connections to the town or university who volunteers for a seemingly impossible job that nobody else wants on the off chance that he may be able to help.
My expectations were admittedly pretty low going into "We Are Marshall" as I was not a particularly huge fan of director McG's "Charlie's Angels" films and assumed I was going to be in for more of the same in-your face over-the-top music video production style with lots of sizzle and very little steak. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying the film. While it does unabashedly touch on several sports movie clichés, the film feels more substantial than most entries in the genre since there is an overriding theme of how people individually and collectively deal with loss and grief that remains front and center throughout. While the film could have easily shifted its focus to the new members of Lengyel's "Young Herd" football team and how they overcome adversity on the field, McG and writers Jamie Linden and Cory Helms wisely keep the focus on those closest to the tragedy with Lengyel serving as the audience's point of entry as an outsider coming into their world.
Technically, the film is well made, with exciting on-the-field sequences and an active, but never hyperactive, camera during the quieter sequences. The plane crash is presented tastefully as a quick cut with the emphasis placed on the chaos of the aftermath. This effectively leads into the film's focus on grief, loss, survivor guilt, and picking oneself up after being knocked down while avoiding even a suggestion of exploitation.
From a performance standpoint, Matthew McConaughey occasionally dances along the line of excess, but presents a nice counterpoint to the rest of the cast which generally underplays things. The sequences where Lengyel earns the trust and/or support of Dedmon, Dawson, and the players are some of the better ones in the movie as the other characters try to figure out what to make of the hunched over enthusiastic and unflaggingly optimistic Coach.
The 16:9 enhanced video presentation is excellent with nice contrast and an appealing color scheme. Compression artifacts and edge ringing are minor to non-existent. Risking overstatement, this is the best looking transfer of a Warner Bros. Home Video new release title I have seen since I started reviewing DVDs for the Home Theater Forum. It does not get much better than this … at standard definition.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is similarly outstanding with the surrounds used effectively, although never distractingly, to create ambience when appropriate. The football scenes in particular come alive with extra emphasis from the LFE channel. Music, including both the score and the selection of several early 70s rock songs comes across particularly well in the mix.
A number of skippable promotional clips appear when the disc is first spun up. All are presented in 4:3 letterbox video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. First up is a 32 second clip for "The NHL's Greatest Moments" DVD. This is followed by a PSA for the state of West Virginia encouraging tourism and commerce featuring on-camera appearances from David Strathairn, Matthew McConaghey, Matthew Fox, and West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. Next up is a one minute and four second clip promoting the DVD release of "America's Game – The Superbowl Champions". Finally, the theatrical trailer for "Fred Claus" runs one minute and fourteen seconds.
From the disc's proper special features menu comes the featurette "Legendary Coaches". It runs 36 minutes and 56 seconds and is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. After an introduction from McG, it offers up "in their own words" profiles of the real-life Jack Lengyel as well as FSU Football coach Bobby Bowden, University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summit, University of Arizona Basketball Coach Lute Olsen, Cal State Fullerton Baseball Coach George Horton, and retired UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden. Footage consists of on-camera interviews with the subjects interspersed with "on-the job" footage and stills of them in practice and game situations.
"Marshall Now" is a one minute and one second PSA for the University featuring appearances from a number of distinguished alumni. It is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.
Finally, the film's two minute and 37 second theatrical trailer is presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.
The film is packaged in a standard Amaray case with no inserts.
"We Are Marshall" presents an above average inspirational sports film based on the true story of how Marshall University, its football team, and its surrounding town of Huntington, West Virginia picked themselves up after suffering a tragic loss. The DVD is presented with excellent video and audio quality, an interesting featurette about legendary college coaches, and no other substantial extras.