Life lessons with Bob Ladouceur: ‘When the Game Stands Tall’

“When the Game Stands Tall’ shows what happened to a football team, its players, school, and community when a 151 game win streak is finally broken.

Scott Marshall Smith’s screenplay, based on the novel by Neil Hayes, is as close to perfect as a screenplay can get. With 15 major characters, and even more minor characters, it would be easy for the script to get diluted telling everyone’s story or to focus on one or two characters so that the viewer forgets the movie is about a team and not an individual.

Fortunately, Smith masterfully balances multiple story lines while providing enough information about each main character to let the audience know who they are and why they’re relevant. More importantly, he gets the audience to care about the characters.

What makes the audience feel for these characters is the way they care for each other. In most sports movies, the bond that players and coaches have between them is rooted in duty and responsibility to the team. For the De La Salle Spartans, however, that bond is love for one another; more as human beings than as teammates. The demonstrations of love that these players displayed to each other were the ties that bound and continue to hold this team together.

Screenplay notwithstanding, the performances delivered by the cast certainly make the film come to life. As with the football players, the actors appeared to share a similar camaraderie. Obviously, actors who work together on a project for only a short while are not going to get as close to each other as teammates who have played together for years. Nevertheless, these actors display a genuine kinship and make the audience believe the way they feel about each other is sincere.

Jim Caviezel as Bob Ladouceur portrays the head coach as a decent man who has not allowed his ego to run amok on the heels of 151 consecutive wins. Caviezel’s presentation of an honest and humble man sets the tone for the rest of the ensemble cast. Michael Chiklis as assistant coach Terry Eidson is the perfect complement to Caviezel. Chiklis’ performance works in tandem with Caviezel’s in similar fashion to the way the characters they play coach the football team. In other words, Chiklis’ performance serves to strengthen and support Caviezel’s.

Thematically, “When the Game Stands Tall” shows that honor can be maintained even in the face of defeat when humility is displayed during victory. It’s easy to understand how the players and fans were disappointed by having a win streak such as theirs broken, but the film shows that every win is not a victory and that every loss is not a defeat.

Most films that are as full of anecdotal life lessons as this come across like an ABC after school special. But what makes this movie so different from the others is that these lessons were not taught by Bob Ladouceur; They were lived by him.