The De La Salle Spartans are in the middle of a 151-game winning streak when Coach Ladouceur has a severe heart attack that sidelines him briefly. Shortly thereafter, the team is rocked again by the senseless murder of a recently graduated teammate. After 12 perfect seasons, the Spartans lose their 2004 season opener against the Bellevue Wolverines. Never having faced defeat, the Spartans are ill-prepared to deal with the end of “The Streak.” Seemingly everyone in the town of Concord was behind them and now their near-mythical status has crashed to an end.
When the Game is at its best as Ladouceur strives to coach his players off the field. Taking them to the amputee ward at a local hospital helps put the end of their winning streak in perspective against true loss. The film, at its core, is more about a group of teen athletes realizing they’re not invincible. It’s about a coach who understands that accolades and record-setting achievements are nothing compared to the attitude with which they approach their lives. The heart attack and random act of violence that occur in the opening act are never returned to in any meaningful way. They’re treated almost as peripheral events as team tries to recover from the on-field loss, preventing the film from truly transcending its cliché-rooted “sports movie” tropes.
Sony’s Blu-ray specs are impressive, with a flawless transfer of Michael Lohmann’s cinematography. The golden, sun-baked tone of Lohmann’s work is never lacking in terms of realistic colors and razor sharpness. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix features some nicely booming LFE action during the game sequences. Dialogue is clear and strong, well-balanced with John Paesano’s soaring score.
A great package of special features includes feature-length commentary by director Thomas Carter and the making-of featurette “Undefeated.” Blu-ray exclusives include select-scene commentary with the real Coach Ladouceur, 14 minutes of deleted scenes, and the featurettes “Gridiron Action: Filming the Football Scenes” and “The Heart and Soul of a Program: Bob Ladouceur.” The Blu-ray package also includes a standard DVD and UltraViolet Digital Copy.
Though not without a few sore-thumb problems in terms of plot and character development, When the Game Stands Tall is still recommendable based on the obvious heart and spirit invested by the filmmakers. Jim Caviezel’s understated yet impassioned performance makes it worthwhile.