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Forever Strong

Drama
109 min / 2008
Rating: 7/10

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.

Cautions

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.

Conclusion

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).

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Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story

Documentary 91 minutes / 2012 Rating: 7/10 This is the amazing story of how a one-armed young man beats the odds to make it onto a Division 1 college basketball team. His disability alone would make Kevin Laue a "long shot" but then he also lost his dad at age 10. What the film celebrates is Laue's determination, but what it also captures is the enormous hole left when a father is missing. So much of what Laue does and wants to do is an effort to make his late father proud. Laue does have a father figure in the film, a fantastic high school coach in Patrick McKnight who was willing to just invest in the young man, and "put a foot in his butt" when Laue needed it. He also has a family that loves him, including a grandmother who calls him her "chickadee" and has to be in the running for his #1 fan. Cautions Language concerns would be a couple of f-bombs dropped by players and one "gosh." We see Kevin in the shower, shot from the other side of the somewhat opaque glass door so we don't see any details, but enough flesh-color to know he is naked. While the trailer below makes this look like more of an explicitly Christian film than it is - the Laues' trust in God only comes up in spots. And that's maybe the more notable caution: while the film highlights how important a father can be for a son, God isn't portrayed as nearly as significant. That might be more a matter of the filmmaker's editing decisions than the family's convictions, but either way it is an opportunity for a great discussion question for our kids: who do you think is being portrayed as the "god" – the most important person or thing? – in this film? Is it dads or God? Conclusion This is a fascinating film about a young man who is admirable in many ways, and yet not so idealized here that he becomes fake and distant. It's a film that any sports fans and both parents and teens will enjoy. Check out the trailer below, and watch it for free here. ...