109 min / 2008
This one begins with a fall from grace: teen rugby star Rick Penning crashes his car, injuring his girlfriend, and gets sent to juvenile detention for his second DUI. He also loses the affection of his rugby coach father who only seems able to relate to his son as a coach and not as a dad.
Even behind bars Rick is hardly repentant. A prison chaplain of sorts starts setting him right by, first, having him scrub a lot of latrines, and second, by introducing him to a very special rugby coach. Larry Gelwix’s Highland club has won the US nationals 15 of the last 20 years, but as he puts it, he’s more about creating championship boys, than winning championships. He invites Rick on his team, which of course, the pig-headed Rick declines. But when he finds out he can get out sooner if he plays, Rick changes his mind, and shows up, though still grudgingly.
This is a sports movie, so of course, we know Rick is going to turn it around in the end. But this one is also rooted in reality – Coach Gelwix and the Highland team are real, and Rick’s character is based on a real person too – and it’s those facts that keep this one fresh.
As part of Rick’s bad-boy life, the film opens with scenes of partying, and brief shots of bare-chested guys and bikini-clad girls. Rick is also shown drinking while driving his car off the road. He hurts himself, but the real damage is to his girlfriend who got thrown from the car and is shown strung up on a barbwire fence. It’s shown only for a moment, but it is the film’s most disturbing image (I thought she was dead, and only learned later she wasn’t). Another caution would concern the bloody cuts from the rugby action (and from a few fist fights).
A topic for discussion with your teens is how the Highland team is at times overtly Christian, and then not. The team prays before games, asking for protection for both themselves and the opponents, but then the player leading the prayer also asks God to help them all “feel the mana, the power of family.” Family is a big part of the film, and there is an ancestor-worship vibe going on at times. So family could be the central “god” of the film.
This is otherwise a pretty amazing movie: well-shot, solidly acted, and you’ll feel the rugby hits right through your TV. The action is too intense for preteens, but it might be a fun one for mom and dad and the older kids. And what’s cool is you can watch it for free at RedeemTV.com (though you will have to sign up for their free membership).