Review of "We Are Marshall" directed by McG
I’ve been waiting to see this movie for a while for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons was because the aircraft accident that wiped out the Marshall University football team happened in 1970, the same year as the accident I cover in my book 35 Miles From Shore. The accident also involved the same type of aircraft — a DC-9.
This is a sports film, but unlike other films in this genre the sport scenes take a back seat to the story. We’ve all seen the sport films where the underdog players rise above the competition; the coach who pushes his players relentlessly and ultimately motivates them to achieve above their means. This film touches on those themes, but the real story here is how the university and town react to the tragic loss of the entire football team.
The film revolves around the new football coach, played by Mathew McConaughey, who is given the impossible task of rebuilding the football program at Marshall from scratch using mostly newly recruited freshmen and a few players who were not on the aircraft that crashed. McConaughey does a good job of portraying coach Jack Lengyel. Anthony Mackie, who plays player Nate Ruffin, also gives a good performance.
The filmmakers stay true to the story. Unlike the film Invincible starring Mark Wahlberg, they don’t try to over glamorize the story. In Invincible, the climax to the story is when Mark Wahlberg’s character recovers a fumble and scores a touchdown. Arms raised, fade out, end of story. What the filmmakers failed to mention, although they showed it, was that he had stepped out of bounds and the touchdown didn’t count. But that would have left them with no ending. In this film, the triumph is winning the first home game after the accident. This is a worthy ending. But in this case the filmmakers point out through narration that the team won only one other game the entire season. They also give coach Lengyel’s record which was an unimpressive 9 and 33.
The DVD has very few extras, which is surprising since the impetus for the film came from a documentary about the accident. There is no commentary and the only images of the actual people are what is shown at the end of the film. An Internet search on the accident will provide a bit more background. The NTSB investigation of the accident revealed only that the crew descended below the MDA on a non-precision approach without having the runway in sight. One of the possible reasons for this might have been a faulty altimeter.
I did a search on Blockbuster and found two documentaries on this story. I picked marshall University Ashes to Glory. It was interesting to see and hear from the actual people. I’d definitely recommend getting one of the documentaries to see either before or after watching the movie.