Woodlawn is a recently released film that tackles three difficult genres of film: race, sports, and faith. And just like the football team it follows, against all odds, Woodlawn succeeds at creating a compelling story in each of the three genres.
Woodlawn came as a surprise to me. Let's face it, over 90% of faith films are, at best, average movies with a corny script, hammy acting, and passable direction that have a good message at the core. Thankfully, Woodlawn is more like a strong football drama with a faith message and racial equality backdrop. What makes the entire film all the more effective is that Woodlawn is based on a true story.
Directed by: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin
Genre: Sports, Football, Drama, Race, Faith, Christian
Release Date: October 16, 2015
Running Time: 124 minutes
MMPA rating: PG
The Good: Strong performances from Sean Astin and Nic Bishop, Well integrated positive message, Entertaining football action, 70s music rocks, Great sense of humor,
The Bad: Drags a bit in the middle,
Plot: 7.5/10- Woodlawn follows the true story of Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama, after a government-mandate that desegregated public high schools. Following the head coach, Tandy Gerelds, star player, Tony Nathan, and evangelist, Hank. Switching between the intertwined stories of the three characters managed to effectively keep the pace steady, although, at points, the film drags just a bit.
As a race film, Woodlawn ties into the race elements well, which is largely thanks to the true story elements. The race part of the story ties into the faith aspect, which is also handled incredibly well. Again, due to be based on a true story, what happens in regards to the faith aspect is handled well without feeling inhibiting the core narrative or delving into sappy territory. In fact, the film can be moving at points, while also addressing a real issue, which is expanded upon at the end.
Characterization: 7.8/10- Effectively developing characters in films that are based on true stories is difficult, and yet the writers managed to give Coach Tandy Gerelds a compelling character arc reflects the themes of the film. Evangelist, Hank, is an all around likable character that actually reminds me a little of people that I know, and while he mostly serves as the reason for the plot to be set into motion, you can really feel the passion in his speeches thanks to Astin's performance. The young football player, Tony Nathan, receives the weakest arc of the three, but it is effective enough and does not hinder the other two.
Direction: 7.0/10- The Erwin Brothers do an all around solid at directing with high quality lighting, framing, and cinematography, rarely seen in faith films. However, the direction excels in the football action with the use of slow motion during the pivotal moments of a play. It is not revolutionary, but at least something different from the norm.
Acting: 7.6/10- Nic Bishop receives the most screen time, and he effectively conveys his character's change throughout the film. Sean Astin is a bit underused, but he is exceptional nonetheless. Caleb Castille the young football player, Tony Nathan, and his inexperience as an actor shows as he is easily the weakest of the principal cast. However, he still does a decent job. Jon Voight as legendary Alabama head coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant, is a good pick for the role, and he does a fine job. The supporting cast is a little hit and miss, but overall, the cast is solid.
Soundtrack: 6.0/10- Paul Mills' score is utterly forgettable. However, the use of classic 60s and 70s songs like "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Spirit In The Sky" go a long way in creating the tone for the setting.
Humor: 7.4/10- While not exactly "hilarious," Woodlawn's script contains quite a few laugh-out-loud moments that made the crowd, and myself, laugh. The humor helps to prevent the slower moments from dragging down the entire film.
Entertainment Value: 7.3/10- For a low budget drama, Woodlawn manages to maintain a strong sense of entertainment as the drama, football action, and positive message are delivered at a steady pace.
Overall: 7.5/10- Woodlawn successfully combines the three difficult genres of race, sports, and faith, into a competent, well acted, and compelling package that should satisfy those interested in any of the genres mentioned.
Closing comments: Woodlawn is the surprise of the year. Too bad the box office numbers do not match its quality.
Recommended for: Football/sports fans, Drama fans, Christians,
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