release date: 20 February 2015 (Canada)
run time: 129 mins
considered: Drama, Sport
director: Niki Caro
starring: Kevin Costner, Ramiro Rodriguez, Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Rafael Martinez, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero, Diana Maria Riva, Omar Leyva, Valente Rodriguez, Danny Mora, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Elsie Fisher
movie summary: McFarland is a small American town in California with deep Mexican roots and customs. Located far from the ocean but close to the picking fields, most of the people in the town work from sunrise to sunset, including the kids in high school. Jim White (Kevin Costner) is the new physical education coach at McFarland High School, who notices that some of these kids can run for miles without breaking a sweat. Despite their cultural differences and Jim’s inability to see how important their picking jobs are, he will try to put together a cross-country team to compete for a state title. His main goal is to get these kids to believe in themselves and their future, and that working in the fields doesn’t have to be their lives. At first Jim’s proposal is bulked at and even the boys he recruits don’t like the idea. Through hard work and determination the runners from McFarland High School will compete and earn a spot in California’s first ever Cross Country State Championship in 1987.
my thoughts: In today’s world you’d be hard pressed to watch a movie, let a lone a Disney movie, that focuses on a story that doesn’t have a happy ending. McFarland sadly falls into that category, the same category of the underdog overcoming the odds and the rags to riches success story. I’m not saying I hate these storylines, but someone going into McFarland had to have known how the movie would play out and that Kevin Costner was going to be hailed as a hero.
With regards to the real story, I’d personally like to know exactly how this became mainstream and how Disney got the movie rights. This story about the first ever cross-country team in a poor town was worth sharing, it was the kind of story that rarely ever gets the attention it deserves. When the media focuses on providing the world with news, it often looks at the negative things and only sometimes spotlights the good. What Jim White was able to accomplish in McFarland should be a feature story on ESPN on top of being turned into a feature-length film. There was a handful of parts I would have cut out because this movie didn’t need to be over two hours, but every piece of the story is very vital to character development and the outcome.
The leading man of this movie is by far Kevin Costner, who is no stranger to being a successful athelete in sports movies. His more famous roles may be on the baseball diamond but he does a really good job here portraying a guy who knows how to coach with limited resources. Despite a background in football, Jim is a fiery talker and one heck of a motivator who will push his kids to the limits to get them to be successful. He’ll spend the first half of the film regretting his decision to move to the tiny town and learning broken Spanish before he rediscovers his passion for life through his cross-country team. It won’t be easy and sometimes he’ll want to back out, but it takes a real man to step up and be a leader in a place where there’s never been one. I’m not talking about being a political leader or some guy that is leading troops into a battle, just a guy who will go above and beyond to unite a community like never before. Someone to give the people hope and a dream, something to strive for. Finding someone who is so committed to a school and a community are hard to find, which leaves Jim White in a small class of men who have really shaped the minds of their young students.
Now I’m not here to say that McFarland is all about Jim White because it’s not. There are seven young boys who bond together to become young men under the blistering heat of the fields and the dusty trails of mountain sides. Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) is named the captain of the team thanks to his ability to run the fastest and longest with little to no effort. He becomes a focal point of the story because his father works day and night all across the south and it is expected that Thomas follow in his footsteps. Hardships at home would not even begin to describe what Thomas is experiencing, but those experiences along with Jim’s coaching will help shape his life and show him that there are indeed opportunities out there for him to have a better life for himself and his family. The three Diaz boys, Danny (Ramiro Rodriguez), David (Rafael Martinez), and Damacio (Michael Aguero) play a vital role at keeping this team together. These kids wake up before the sun rises to go picking, go to school all day, and then run eight miles a night at practice. As much as Jim becomes a shining light in their lives, they will return the favour by showing him what life is really like in their small town, that working hard in the fields is all they will ever know and there is no American dream.
I laughed several times throughout the film as Jim and his family try to blend in with their neighbours. Their broken spanish is hilarious at first but they begin to form friendships with everyone and before you know become very popular. When the locals realize that Jim has a desire to bring a fresh set of ideas to the struggling community, to help put McFarland on the map, they welcome him with open arms. He just wants what is best for his students in and out of the classroom which is the most important thing to take away from McFarland. Despite the whole story being based on running and overcoming the odds, the real guts of this story is finding a dream and working hard to achieve it, no matter who makes fun of you and how many times you fail. You just get back up and continue the chase.
my final thoughts: Disney does a great job (again) with the inspiring tale of the McFarland cross-country team. Kevin Costner really does a good job as a coach and life motivator to a bunch of kids who really had nothing to believe in. The boy’s team, made up of some unknown actors, really shine under the hot California sun as they run for the finish line and a brighter future. McFarland is right up there with, say the The Rookie, as a decent sports movie that should be watched at least once. Even though I felt it went a little longer than need to be and was really predictable, I still enjoyed the movie. Most of you would enjoy too on the big screen or the small screen.
my star rating: 7 out 10
imdb: 7.7 out 10
rottentomatoes: 79% out 100%
roger ebert: 3.5 out 4
richard crouse: 2.5 out 5