I'm going to say some nice things about We Are Marshall, maybe more than it deserves, so a little explanation may be in order. I think the reason I'm so eager to give the film a passing grade is my shock at seeing a moderately well-directed film from McG, the director of Charlie's Angels infamy with the moniker so bland and compact it sounds like the DGA replacement for Alan Smithee. Sitting down to watch this film, I fully prepared myself for football scenes where players would defy the laws of gravity by running up the sides of the goal posts and drop-kicking each other after stopping in midair to do a crouching tiger pose. But that's not the case. This is a real movie, and a rare one, in that it shows football intersecting with reality. Most football movies tend to recreate the insular, world-within-a-world nature of the game itself; everything always comes down to a blowhard coach doing his best to convince his bulky and undisciplined players that victory on the gridiron will somehow endow them with honor, integrity, or transferable life lessons.
If you're immune to that kind of silly talk, then football isn't for you. We Are Marshall has its share of pep-talk baloney, but thankfully it's not the heart of the film. This is a story that begins with the main event -- a 1970 plane crash in West Virginia that takes out 37 members of Marshall University's football team, along with various coaches, assistants and twenty-two boosters, effectively ending the school's program in one terrible moment. Although most of the parents and school administrators are happy to let Marshall football rest in peace after such a catastrophe, a few dissenting voices begin to whisper about re-starting the program from scratch. Needless to say, success will depend on an angelic coach who appears out of nowhere and says exactly the right things to motivate the survivors to go along with his quest to resurrect the team. (Remember, I said the film was decent, not original or inventive) The balance that must be struck, between honoring so many dead and getting on with life, is a difficult one.