Woodlawn: Movie Review
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One Hope. One Truth. One Way.
Woodlawn's unabashedly evangelistic movie poster tagline, with the scripture reference of, offers the best setup for the Erwin Brothers' new film. This is a spiritual movie, complete with footage from old Billy Graham crusades. It intently focuses on the life-altering spiritual awakening of a football team in racism-torn Alabama in the 1970s. And Woodlawn makes no qualms about calling Jesus out.
Up against Matt Damon's No. 1 movie The Martian and director Guillermo del Toro's new horror fantasy Crimson Peak, it's unlikely this smaller budget '70s-era football flick will be a big catch at the box office. However, its faith and family friendliness will please selective audiences.
THE MOVIE IN A MINUTE
It's 1973 in volatile Birmingham, Alabama. Racism and violence plague the community, including once segregated Woodlawn High School. The hatred seeps into Coach Tandy Gerelds' (Nic Bishop) integrated football team and doesn't show any signs of abating. That is until an unbelievable spiritual awakening under the guidance of a visiting chaplain (Sean Astin). In the middle of it all is a young football star on the rise, the first African-American superstar â€“ Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille).
THE GOOD AND BAD IN WOODLAWN
The brotherly directing duo of Andrew and Jon Erwin (Mom's Night Out, October Baby) took the helm on this personal project, retelling a slice of Alabama history that's near and dear to their dad's heart. Hank Erwin plays a supporting role in the real-life Woodlawn story, with Sean Astin (Rudy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) playing the spirited chaplain. Jon Voight makes appearances throughout the film as longtime University of Alabama coach Bear Bryant. But, the focus centers on the solid performances of newcomer Caleb Castille and TV actor Nic Bishop (Covert Affairs, Body of Proof). Originally hired as the lead's stunt double, Castille transitioned well into this debut role just days before production began in Birmingham.
Similar to Remember the Titans (2000) and Jim Caviezel's When the Game Stands Tall (2014), Woodlawn is another high school football movie that speaks to the personal struggles of the team's top players and coaches, community-dividing racism, along with strong Christian overtones. There are scenes that lag and more intensity in the conflicting moments would make the payoffs more rewarding.
The football sequences are up-close and action-packed, a testament to the Erwins' past career as ESPN cameramen. The cast gels together as they deliver their take on this multilayered, character-heavy story. And its message that faith, hope, and love can lead to healing is a timely one. Though the movie has a outspoken biblically-based message and does get 'speechy', the dialogue does a decent job of not getting forcefully preachy.
Rated PG for thematic elements including some racial tension/violence, Woodlawn is appropriate for most ages. Some of the violent scenes would be scary for the younger ones, but it doesn't get bloody. Moviegoers don't have to worry about sexual situations or foul language.
IN THE END
Woodlawn's faith-in-Jesus message, historical narrative, and big on-screen football plays make it one of the better Christian films released this year.
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