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"MY ALL AMERICAN"
(2015) (Finn Wittrock, Aaron Eckhart) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Despite being small, a football player excels in both high school and college, but must contend with a serious challenge that threatens his career.
PLOT:
It's 1966 and Freddie Steinmark (FINN WITTROCK) is a star player on his high school's football team -- thanks in part to the support his parents, Gloria (ROBIN TUNNEY) and Fred (MICHAEL REILLY BURKE) -- and he's drawn the romantic attention of new classmate Linda Wheeler (SARAH BOLGER). They're soon a couple and discussing the future, including Freddie's dreams of playing football at Notre Dame and then back in Denver with the Broncos on a professional level.

His diminutive size, however, has likely been the cause of no offer from Notre Dame or other schools. But his association with transfer quarterback Bobby Mitchell (RETT TERRELL) ends up getting both of them scholarships to play at the University of Texas under head coach Darrell Royal (AARON ECKHART). He likes what he sees in the boys and other players such as fellow quarterback James Street (JUSTON STREET), and it's not long before Freddie's steadfast determination earns him a starting spot on the squad as just a sophomore.

But as the physical demands of practice and the games take a toll on his body, it's unclear if Freddie will be able to maintain his output on the field, while his nagging pains increasingly worry Linda, coach Royal and others that something else might be amiss with him.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Any filmmaking student or person currently working in the business of making movies knows of Alfred Hitchcock's old bit of advice about foreshadowing. He was explicitly referring to building suspense when saying it's better to let the audience know there's a bomb under a table of unsuspecting potential victims rather than simply have it blow up unexpectedly.

The latter is just a temporary jump scene, while the former creates palpable tension and engagement with the affected characters. Of course, that can apply to plenty of story elements that don't involve bombs, and it's basically used to introduce the possibility of something happening rather than simply unleash it without any warning.

And it might be all too obvious for me to say, but subtlety is the key here, as you never want to telegraph any plot surprise too much -- or at all for that matter -- lest the viewer know or guess what it's going to be before it arrives on the screen.

Such foreshadowing issues arise in "My All American," although one likely only applies to those with a strong historical knowledge of the University of Texas. Granted, since this football drama is based on a true story, those who are longtime fans of the sports program will likely know where things are ultimately headed in this tale about a diminutive player who made quite an unlikely name for himself on the team.

And that would be Freddie Steinmark (played in a winning fashion by Finn Wittrock) who, despite his size, landed a scholarship at the school to play for coach Royal (Aaron Eckhart). When not spending time with his high school girlfriend, Linda (Sarah Bolger), who went to the college with him -- along with star quarterback Bobby Mitchell (Rett Terrell) -- Freddie worked his tail off, got himself a starting position as a sophomore, and helped his team battle the Arkansas Razorbacks for the national championship.

But since Steinmark is mostly lost to history outside of the university, I'm referring to a plethora of establishing shots of the signature clock tower at the school. Most of the film's storyline takes place in 1968 and '69 and I couldn't remember exactly when engineering student and former Marine Charles Whitman went to the top of that tower and proceeded to shoot 46 people down below, killing 14 of them (plus two more from earlier that day).

Thus, with each obvious view of that tower, I kept expecting shots to ring out at some point and thus affect some if not all of the characters' lives, thus effectively turning a football drama into something more. Alas, my timing was off, and Whitman's sniper spree occurred in 1966. But that ominous and symbolic presence of the Grim Reaper -- purposeful or not on the part of writer/director Angelo Pizzo who also penned "Hoosiers" and "Rudy" -- hangs over the proceedings.

Accordingly, when what ultimately develops is eventually revealed, it's not that much of a surprise, not only due to the clock tower views, but also repeated shots of our protagonist obviously having something seriously physically wrong with him. That said, that lack of subtlety doesn't prevent the subsequent scenes from possessing some powerful emotional content, thanks in great part to the efforts of those both in front of and behind the camera to make the protagonist such a likeable guy.

Scene after scene following the reveal pack quite the punch, which is a good thing (not in terms of what happens with the character, but plot-wise) since the middle of the film is filled with more than its share of practice and game montages. The beginning works quite well in establishing the protagonist and getting us to like him, but that middle ends up dragging as not much happens beyond the passing of time (and games).

Diehard football fans (especially of the Longhorns) might not mind, but that middle section is something of a storytelling drag. And then along comes the not-that-surprising reveal and all of the emotional baggage surrounding it. Imagine "Rudy" as mixed with "Brian's Song" and you'll get a feel for what's in store for most viewers. Is it perfect? No, but much like its underdog character, it works hard to make you like it and the payoff in the end is quite effective. "My All American" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed November 3, 2015 / Posted November 13, 2015


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