Gridiron Gang
R1 - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Cameron Murray (15th January 2007).
The Film

Based on a true story and being a sports story I thought that "Gridiron Gang" was going to be another B-grade movie that just ambled its' way to an inevitable conclusion of winning the championship match in the last seconds when all hope seems to have been lost. But this is not that sort of movie, yes this is a classic sports story of a team triumphing over prejudice and gaining respect for themselves, but this is no fairytale this is based on actual events. Which facts have been smudged or disregarded are irrelevant because the story which was told; was a fantastic display of storytelling and scriptwriting. The actors played there roles with passion and a commitment that astonished me given the limited experience that the majority of the cast had, seeing some of the hits that the actors took in the course of the filming of the football games were astonishing and you can only sit there in awe of the dedication that they displayed to get smashed and get back up and do it again until the shot was right. That mentality is pretty much the message of this movie, if you get knocked down; you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go again.
Set in a juvenile delinquents camp the story revolves around Sean Porter (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) a counselor who is sick of the poor statistics relating to the rehabilitation of the young prisoners with 75% of the residents at the camp when released either; returning to prison, their former gangs or ending up dead. Sean along with his co-worker Malcolm Moore (rapper Xzibit ) decide that they need to teach the kids to respect themselves and to start looking for a life outside of the gangs that they have come to believe are their family. Sean feels that a gridiron team (The Mustangs) is the answer to the void that is left behind by taking the gangs out of these kids' lives. The first challenge that he faces is to actually get the team to function on even the most basic level without them literally trying to kill each other, then there is the problem of trying to get it cleared by his superiors, and finally the question of whether he can find a league which they can play in. Sean's method of achieving anyone of these three challenges at times proved to be unorthodox; driving his team to the point of mutiny, so that they display team unity to name one example. But this is more than just a two dimensional story about a team and a game, this story has depth with each member of the team having a character and a history. The most beautiful thing about this movie is that it's not afraid to remind you that these kids are criminals and that you start to empathise with and cheer on, have done bad things and are incarcerated for a reason. A perfect example of this is when Moore is watching a kid and says 'Man, that kid's always smiling!' to which Sean replies 'Yeah, but I wonder if he was smiling when he stabbed that woman for her purse?'. It's moments like this that give this movie a jagged edge to the fairy/sports tale fašade.
This jagged edge was portrayed well in the directing by Phil Joanou, with a lot of free hand-held cameras and very few static shots. This lends a documentary feel which is of course what the story is based on. The football scenes were reminiscent of some of the scenes from "Any Given Sunday" (1999) only shot with a slightly more gritty feel to it. The director also does not shy away from showing some of the truly graphic scenes that these kids would witness in their neighborhoods growing up. One of the most graphic accounts of this is when one of the kids, Willie Weathers (Jade Yorker), witnesses his cousin being run over in a drive by shooting that also leaves his friend dead in the street. This scene is shot amazingly well and leaves you speechless with the blatant disregard that is shown for human life by these gangbangers. Given that the director was also dealing with a largely inexperienced cast the performances that he extracts from his actors are at times powerful. The scenes in the locker room where they have the psyche up speeches are well done, and ring true to anyone who has played team sports and had a coach who believes in you when you don't have enough faith in yourself.
The coach, Sean Porter, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is a former football player himself before turning to professional wrestling. His performance in this movie was a real eye opener, I have always been a fan; from his days in the WWF and WWE to his foray into the motion picture business. I have always known his comical ability in such films as "Welcome to the Jungle" AKA "The Rundown" (2003) and "Be Cool" (2005) along with his intensity in films like "The Scorpion King" (2002) and "Walking Tall" (2004), but this role demanded more. It demanded a level of emotion that before this movie I don't know if I would have believed he could pull off, but he does and does it well. This role has proven to me that he is not the next Vin Diesel, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme he is so much better than that. He shines in this movie but he does not leave the rest of the cast behind him, because this movie is more than just about a coach and him teaching the kids valuable life lessons, it's about the kids growing up and realizing some of it for themselves. The rest of the cast all carry off their characters stories well and they grow in a very organic way and as the viewer you don't feel that you are being force fed some moralistic Disney tripe.
This movie surprised me, to be honest I was expecting an average sports movie with little to no emotional content despite the inevitable will they win (and then the equally inevitable of course they will). But this movie was about more than will they win the final game, it's also about will they survive in the world outside the walls that they were retained within. I highly recommend this movie whether a sports fan or not, it is very enjoyable and an easy watch as well. Go the Mustangs!

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 this anamorphic widescreen transfer is very good, but does have a few minor problems. Let's cover the pros, the transfer is sharp and detailed, colors are represented here accurately presenting the film in a muted array of colors that the director intended with blues, greens dominating the color scheme of the juvenile camp. The game footage is much more vivid in colors and they are equally impressive with skin tones appearing natural. The cons are minor edge-enhancement that I spotted and I also found the blacks not as bold as I'd have liked and some scenes were as a result murky. Other than that it's a fairly clean transfer that presents the film well.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and also in French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. This was a very good 5.1 effort from Sony, the mix was dynamic and presented the film with clean and distortion free audio. The track included some well balanced activity in the surrounds and an ample amount of bass, the music plays a vital part in this film and the score certainly makes an impression here. Overall this is a quality soundtrack that does this film justice.
Optional subtitles are included in English and French.

Extras

ony have included an audio commentary, a series of deleted scenes, three featurettes plus a collection of bonus trailers as extras on this disc. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Phil Joanou and screenwriter Jeff Maguire. The two discuss the real life story behind this film and what inspired them to make it, shooting in the actual juvenile detention camp as well as shedding light on the storytelling elements such as scripting, performance and music among other things. There's a lot of information about 'the little things' such as scenes lifted directly from real life from the documentary, authenticity was a major factor for the filmmakers. Overall this is a solid track with the two participants being rather chatty, they provide a lot of information and that makes for a rather enjoyable and interesting track to listen to.

Following that are 15 deleted scenes that included optional audio commentary by the film's director Phil Joanou and screenwriter Jeff Maguire. In the commentary they talk about the placing of each scene and why it was omitted from the final cut, these scenes can be viewed individually or with the option of a 'play all' feature. The scenes included are:

- "Sean In Trouble With Higa" runs for 3 minutes, Sean gets in trouble for hitting a kid with a rolled up magazine.
- "Willie In Jail" runs for 1 minute 27 seconds and sees Willie in jail after he shot his mother's boyfriend.
- "Sean Gets A Phone Call" runs for 50 seconds, Sean's mother calls him after the football program is cancelled.
- "Dexter Criticizes Sean" runs for 44 seconds, Dexter gives Sean a hard time about yelling at Evans the obese kid.
- "Kids Write Letters" runs for 1 minute 47 seconds, in this extended clip we see the kids writing to their parents, girlfriends, friends etc.
- "Malcolm Criticizes Sean" runs for 1 minute 36 seconds, Malcolm is upset with Sean about pushing the kids too hard.
- "Could Have Played Pro Ball" runs for 38 seconds, the kids discover that Sean cold have played professional football.
- "Distracted By Cheerleaders" runs for 2 minutes 15 seconds, a Panthers cheerleader asks Willie was crime he committed.
- "The Extra Point" runs for 1 minute 2 seconds, Bates forgets to take the extra point.
- "Asking For Forgiveness" runs for 1 minute 30 seconds, Sean borrows his mother's bible and asks Malcolm for forgiveness.
- "Kelvin Scores A Touchdown" runs for 1 minute 51 seconds, this is the team's first touchdown which occurred in the second game.
- "They Want To Be Our Cheerleaders" runs for 1 minute 45 seconds, Sean takes a call about the girls from camp Scott wanting to be cheerleaders for The Mustangs.
- "Madlock Scores A Touchdown" runs for 1 minute 22 seconds, Madlock scores against the Eagles in this clip.
- "The Big Game" runs for 2 minutes 24 seconds, in the final game the Panthers steal the ball after a fumble, plus we see the following play.
- "Mustang Mural" runs for 43 seconds, the team paints their logo on a wall and get into a paint fight.

Next up is "Gridiron Gang: Football Training" a featurette that runs for 6 minutes 12 seconds, this takes a look at the football camp the cast were put through which aims to not only prepare them for the film's grueling football scenes but to also teach them the plays and recreating them accurately.

"Phil Joanou Profile" is a featurette that runs for 4 minutes 7 seconds and is a spotlight on the film's director and a look at what interested and inspired him about this story, his directing, style and approach to the film as everyone talks about him, this is at best a vanity piece that pats Joanou on the back and is almost entirely worthless as an extra and has little to no repeat value.

"The Rock Takes The Field" is a featurette that runs for 4 minutes 9 seconds, this clip takes a look at the film's star and talks about strapping on the gear and playing a scene on the field as we go behind-the-scenes of that scene. The key cast and director also talk about the scene and what it means for "The Rock" to suit up in football gear.

Next up is a Multi-angle: Football Scene feature and you get a chance to see the football game footage in 5 different angles that you can cycle through as well as a 'composit' which features all 5 angles on one screen.

Rounding out the extras are some bonus trailers for:

- "The Stomp Yard" which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "Ghost Rider" which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "The Messengers" which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "Facing The Giants" which runs for 2 minutes 12 seconds.
- "The Covenant" which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "Rudy" which runs for 32 seconds.
- "Coming To Blu-ray" spot which runs for 1 minute 14 seconds.

Packaging

This DVD is packaged in an amaray case that is housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The commentary and deleted scenes are the only worthwhile extras on this disc, the featurettes can be considered light fluff that acts as filler and nothing else. If you enjoyed the film there's no reason not to pick up this release, otherwise it's certainly worth a rental.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: C+ Overall: B

 


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