Film Review: "McFarland USA"

"McFarland USA" was the Closing Night film of the 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival. I was going to watch but I decided I'd watch another movie because I would be able to watch it two nights later --- in hindsight, I should have watched it earlier and watched it again Monday night and I would have had seen it twice now. It is so good! No, it's a great film anchored by a truly uplifting and inspiring true story of a group of kids, their coach and their humble community to overcome their adversity and triumph in one field where the stakes are higher and the challenges tougher but where economic status in life do not matter at all.

Set in 1987, the film is inspired by a remarkable true story when a recently fired football coach, Jim White (Kevin Costner), was forced by necessity to accept a job in a small Central Valley California high school in the town of McFarland where the predominant population is composed of poor Latino families whose primary livelihood is picking produce. At his new school, he discovers a group of kids who are exceptional runners and he decides to form a cross-country team despite initial objections from the school and the kids' parents who would rather have their kids pick fruits and vegetables rather than waste time training for a sport that they think will not provide them any means of future livelihood anyway.

The story chronicles the forming of the team that would eventually set an unprecedented 24-year streak of making it to the State Championships. It also introduces us to each of the seven runners who pioneered the team and the coach whose initial goal was to leave McFarland as soon as an opportunity arises. The movie gives a balanced narrative combining the thrilling ascent of the team to the top of the sport in remarkably brief time and the heart-rending day-to-day challenges the boys had to face --- they get up very early each day to help pick produce before they head for school and they go back to the fields after school to resume picking produce. It melts your heart to see these young boys be so responsible for their age. Their smiles betray the backbreaking labor they have to do everyday and it makes you feel guilty for the small pleasures that we take for granted everyday. There's a very poignant scene in the movie, right after a meet, when the boys were brought to the beach by their coach to celebrate. It was their first time to see the beach and the joy in their faces is truly wonderful to behold.

Niki Caro, the acclaimed director who previously gave us "The Whale Rider" and "North Country", ably navigates the conventions of the genre and gives us occasional glimpse of artistry in several choice shots and clever exposition. This was a modestly-budgeted production but the result is quite superb. The performances by the cast are uniformly good with Costner delivering one of his most inspired performances to date aided by Maria Bello's quiet but strong supporting performance.

Rating: 5 Stars

"McFarland USA" opens in theaters February 20!

Watch the trailer below...

No comments :

Post a Comment