Review: Gridiron Gang

September 19, 2006

Gridiron Gang has the misfortune of opening after Invincible, another real-life football tale, but one that can also boast the Disney brand. In the wrong hands, the genre’s cycle of hardship-inspiration-uplift can seem rote, and it’s difficult for deserving but basically similar stories to stand out from the competition. Despite the occasional mixed message and overwrought moment, Gridiron Gang is a sincere, moving film about a worthwhile subject, a California program that uses football to help troubled youth.

Opening with the sobering statistic that 120,000 juveniles are in detention, the film then details life at Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention center in the suburbs of Los Angeles. With recidivism rates hovering near 75%, and homes afflicted by violent crime, the inmates have little to live for. Probation officer Sean Porter (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) realizes that football could discipline his charges while providing physical release. He overcomes the skepticism of colleagues, finesses funding for uniforms and equipment, and persuades area schools to let what would become the Camp Kilpatrick Mustangs participate in the Camino Real high school football league.

Training is too tough for some wards; others have trouble adjusting to Porter’s demands. Junior (Setu Taase), a team leader, suffers a serious injury. Gang rivalries disrupt practices. The first game starts well, but the Mustangs end up losing badly. An angry tirade by Porter further alienates the players. But against the odds, the team begins to gel. The Mustangs start winning, drawing crowds and media attention. But gang violence could end the season before the playoffs.

Director Phil Joanou can’t quite disguise the fact that this is a pretty familiar story (or that he’s working with a relatively small budget). The film’s nervous, edgy style, marked by zoom lenses and quick cuts, works best in the football scenes, which hit harder than most thanks in part to Allan Graf’s expert choreography. Other scenes can feel too hyped up, especially when screenwriter Jeff Maguire delves into the home lives of the teen inmates.

With his background in college football and professional wrestling, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson rarely gets the respect he deserves as an actor. His Sean Porter is tough, even harsh, but also prone to self-doubt. It’s a steady, assured performance, and Johnson brings an honesty and commitment to his role that is mirrored by the rest of the cast. As feuding gang members, Jade Yorker and David Thomas are standouts among the younger actors.

Gridiron Gang has one climax too many, and the film as a whole would work better trimmed by about a half-hour. Jaded viewers may dismiss the script’s upbeat message, but there’s no doubting the passion the cast and crew have brought to the project. If some issues are glossed over, it’s still remarkable that something positive can be said about what is usually considered an intractable problem. The closing credits contain footage from a 1993 documentary, also called Gridiron Gang, that was directed by Lee Stanley, one of the producers here. The clips of Sean Porter show just how well The Rock captured the coach’s spirit.

Credits

Cast: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Xzibit, Kevin Dunn, Leon Rippy, Jade Yorker, Setu Taase, Trever O’Brien, David Thomas, Mô, Brandon Mychal Smith, Danny Martinez, Michael J. Pagan, Jurnee Smollett , Jamal Mixon, James Earl III, Michael Jace, L. Scott Caldwell, Anna Maria Horsford, Brett Cullen, Dan Martin.

Crew: Directed by Phil Joanou. Written by Jeff Maguire. Based on the documentary Gridiron Gang. Produced by Neal H. Moritz, Lee Stanley. Executive producers: Michael Rachmil, Shane Stanley, Ryan Kavanaugh, Lynwood Spinks. Director of photography: Jeff Cutter. Production designer: Floyd Albee. Edited by Joel Negron. Music by Trevor Rabin. Costume designer: Sanja Milkovic Hays. Stunt/football coordinator: Allan Graf. Co-producer: Amanda Cohen. A Columbia Pictures presentation, in association with Relativity Media, of an Original Film Production, in association with Visual Arts Entertainment.

Columbia Pictures/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/125 Mins./Rated PG-13


Review: Saint of 9/11

September 19, 2006

This somber, reverential documentary examines the life of Mychal Judge, a priest who died at the World Trade Center while serving in his role as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. Judge’s popularity extended across a surprisingly broad spectrum of the city, and the documentary works best when it tries to tie together the various facets of the priest’s life.

Judge was born in Brooklyn in 1933 to Irish immigrant parents, and entered a Franciscan seminary as a teenager in 1948. After a decade as a friar, he was ordained a priest in 1961. Judge worked in three parishes in New Jersey, but found his true calling aiding the homeless in New York City. As a gay priest and recovering alcoholic, he was at the center of the most controversial aspects of the Archdiocese of New York during the 1980s.

It was his work as a chaplain to the Fire Department that brought Judge to the attention of a broader public. His ministry after the 1986 crash of TWA Flight 800 in the waters off Long Island showed a remarkable sensitivity and compassion to the families of the victims. Judge also gained considerable respect for his commitment to AIDS patients, for his peace efforts in Northern Ireland, and for his preaching, shown here in some brief, tantalizing video clips.

Throughout the film, director Glenn Holsten is limited by the lack of available footage of Judge. Most of Saint of 9/11 consists of talking heads who share reminiscences about the priest. The documentary could have made its points equally well without some of the more hagiographic comments, and some early montages border on the maudlin. Still, Judge comes off as a warm, smart, and courageous priest free of pretensions.

Holsten handles the attack on the World Trade Center with welcome discretion. Footage shot of Judge just before his death show the priest stunned by the enormity of the disaster. As a friend observes, the priest would have bridled at any suggestion that he was a saint. Holsten’s occasional hyperbole notwithstanding, it’s likely that Judge would have enjoyed this film.

Credits

Featuring: Brian Carroll, Tom Von Essen, Shannon Stapleton, Mychal McNicholas, Brendan Fay, Christopher Keenan, Fred Langevin, Malachy McCourt, John McNeill, Everald Brathwaite, Eddie Mouson, Patrick Kowalski, Patricia Lewsley, Eugene McManamin, Steven McDonald, Father Fergus O’Keefe, Pauline Campbell, Father Brendan O’Rourke, Sister Stephanie Flaherty, Mary Lanning, Brother Tom Carey, Jose Rodriguez, Tom Ryan, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton.

Crew: Directed by Glenn Holsten. Executive producer: Malcolm Lazin. Co-producer: Brendan Fay. Narrated by Ian McKellen. Edited by Kathleen Soulliere. Director of photography: Christopher Landy. Music by Michael Aharon. A Red Envelope Entertainment and IFC Films presentation of an Equality Forum production.

 

IFC Films/Color/1.85/91 Mins./Not rated


Interview: Art Linson on The Black Dahlia

September 7, 2006

James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia marked a turning point in his career as a novelist. Based on the gruesome, real-life murder of Elizabeth Short in 1947, the 1987 book was a culmination of Ellroy’s obsession with the noir world of 1940s Los Angeles. The hard-as-nails prose, vivid characters, and feverish plotting evoked a hallucinatory pulp world flecked with blood, sex, and despair. It was also a deeply personal book for Ellroy, as it was his first to make use of the murder of his mother, Jean Hilliker. Despite the release in 1997 of the Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential, another Ellroy adaptation, getting The Black Dahlia on screen proved impossible until producer Art Linson persuaded director Brian De Palma to try.

Speaking from his home in France, Linson tried to play down the labyrinthine production history behind The Black Dahlia. “The back story of how this movie ultimately got funded is a whole other drama. You don’t get fifteen producer credits unless the script was sitting around a long time, with a lot of people taking shots at it. Things didn’t go well many, many times.” Linson was producing Fight Club when he first saw the script, which at the time was over two hundred pages and “unmakeable.” Linson hadn’t worked with Brian De Palma since The Untouchables and Casualties of War, but felt that the story was perfect for the director.

The two collaborated with screenwriter Josh Friedman, author of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, on a new script, making the story shorter and more specific. Linson says that they needed to narrow the scope of the book’s plot to focus on the three lead characters, “people who get caught up in a world where murder happens.” The script remains honest to Ellroy’s writing, but as the producer points out, “In the end, Brian De Palma had to find a way to make it his own movie, filter it through his operatic style of filmmaking.”

Ellroy feels that the casting of Josh Hartnett, who committed to the movie before the script was finished, was crucial. He plays Bucky Bleichert, a compromised Los Angeles police detective whose search for justice threatens every relationship in his life. Hartnett narrates the film and is in every scene. Ellroy says that the actor “nails Bucky with no histrionic excess. He excels at projecting cognition. He carries the film’s moral vision: you’re fearful, but you always go forward.”

With a completed script and Hartnett on board, the rest of the cast fell into place quickly. Scarlett Johannson took the role of Kay Lake, a former prostitute rescued by Bleichert’s partner Lee Blanchard (played by Aaron Eckhart). Hilary Swank is Madeleine, a wealthy heiress whose resemblance to the murder victim becomes a pivotal plot twist. Linson singles out Mia Kirshner, best known from Showtime’s The L Word and season four of 24. “She came in to read for one of the other parts, but ended up taking the role of the Black Dahlia. She did a tremendous job, getting her character to evolve in these screen tests which are used in the movie. She’s going to get enormous attention for this picture.”

The story unfolds in a lost Los Angeles of race riots, corrupt cops, seedy nightclubs, and urban decay, all tainted by Hollywood glamour. Trying to recreate the 1940s in Bulgaria was “a daunting task,” Linson admits. “The hills of Hollywood in this movie are the hills of Sofia. Try that out for size.” The producer described the juggling act he went through with production designer Dante Ferretti and equally esteemed cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond to achieve the look of the film. “The attention to detail is the secret, but it also costs money. Getting the flavor of a time is a combination of a hundred small things, small details, and as you start to sacrifice to save ‘money,’ you lose that feeling, that period. But it’s impossible to know which one, you know what I mean? So there is this daily fight of, ‘Do we need that dish? We have four dishes, what if we had three dishes? We have three cars, what if we had two? The people in the background, no one will ever notice that those ties are from the 80’s, instead of the 1940s.’ It becomes a remarkable journey in terms of trying to hold onto the detail. No one’s clever enough to know exactly how much is enough. And no one can ever get everything they want. In fact, it took a lot of high-end screaming to try to get this to feel true. But if you start to see the slip showing too much, the magic trick is over.”

Working with De Palma again after almost twenty years was a “great time.” “We did this film in fifty-eight days,” Linson continues. “Brian De Palma is a prepared man. He’s not a guy who has to put a sequence together in an editing room. He’s a true visualist: he’s got a great eye and a great sense of where to put the camera. But like all the really good directors, he needs the material to support his vision. If you look at his best movies, they’re written by David Mamet or Oliver Stone or David Koepp or in this case Josh Friedman. Brian as a director deserves a bigger platform to dive off of.”

Younger directors with access to newer technologies may have seemed to have caught up with the startling stylistic flourishes De Palma used in his early films like Sisters and Blow Out. But Linson thinks, “People are spending way too much time worrying about that stuff. A knife against a woman’s cheek, Brian knows where to put the camera. It you want to have somebody run out of the theater screaming, he knows what to do. What changes is the material. It’s nice to have characters who can back up the visuals, who can support the cake he’s building. If they’re just icing, then you’re not getting all that De Palma can give.”

Linson’s next project is an adaptation of his non-fiction book What Just Happened?, a scathing, insider’s account of how deals are made in Hollywood. Financed in part by 2929 Productions (Good Night, and Good Luck), the film stars Robert De Niro, and is being directed by Barry Levinson. “The film will not be like the book,” Linson says. “The book is a series of anecdotes. The film will be a two-week journey in the life of a desperate movie producer.”

Asked why there are over fifteen producing credits for The Black Dahlia, Linson admits that “Brian and I probably didn’t meet or even hear of at least ten to twelve of them. Literally never met them or heard of them until we got the credit list.

“The thing about making a good movie is that everybody goes in with good intentions. But there’s money involved, and there’s other people involved. It ain’t like going out with a canvas and some oils and saying, ‘I’m going to dazzle the planet when I come back in a couple of years.’ There are so many people in the process you have to depend on, so many moving parts, that you can have really good intentions and still end up with something awful.”

Linson is thus both proud and grateful about The Black Dahlia, which is the opening night feature at this year’s Venice Film Festival. “There were a lot of stops and starts with this project before the right group got together. We all fought the fight as hard as we could, and in the end I think this is going to be considered one of Brian’s better movies.”


Review: The Protector

September 7, 2006

They don’t make movies like The Protector anymore. In fact, they stopped about fifteen years ago, when martial arts stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li turned their attention from local to international markets. A throwback in more ways than one, this Tony Jaa vehicle resurrects the bad acting and absurd plotting of old-fashioned kung fu movies, as well as their exhilarating stunts and action choreography. Genre fans will lap it up, and the generally non-threatening material could bring in a broader audience as well.

Like Jaa’s Ong-Bak, The Protector is a proudly Thai film that makes the country’s customs and traditions an integral part of the story. A long prologue details the veneration many feel for elephants, and introduces a family whose job it is to protect the animals from poachers. When two of his elephants are abducted during a festival, Kham (Tony Jaa) goes to Sydney, Australia, to rescue them.

Helped by Mark (Phettkai Wongkhamlao), a Thai working on the Sydney police force, Kham zeroes in on Johnny (Johnny Tri Nguyen), whose restaurant serves as a cover for a multi-level casino and bordello. Johnny is also involved with a Chinese gang that’s being taken over by Madame Rose (Jin Xing), a beautiful but ruthless transsexual. Kham will fight them all to save his elephants.

Most of the creative team behind Ong-Bak is back for The Protector, including director Prachya Pinkaew and stunt coordinator Panna Rittikrai. The amusingly irascible Phettkai Wongkhamlao also returns to help with the acting. Like Jackie Chan (who gives the film his imprimatur in an unbilled cameo), Jaa prides himself on performing his own stunts. He does them brilliantly, but he is less successful at portraying any personality. Compared to Wongkhamlao or the magnetic Jin Xing, Jaa has so little screen presence that he often seems to fade away from his own film.

But Jaa shines in the fight scenes, among the most intricate and intense of the year. Many will be impressed by a four-minute take in which Jaa demolishes dozens of bad guys in Johnny’s four-story den of iniquity, but the choreography for an extended fight in an abandoned garage is actually far more complicated. There Jaa maneuvers his way in, over, and around vehicles, fences, walls, stairways, and ramps while fighting off skateboarders, motorcyclists, ATVs, and chain-wielding goons. Add in a trio of man-to-man encounters with fighters from different martial arts schools, followed by an extended battle with assorted musclemen, and The Protector could try the patience of non-action fans.

The film was a solid hit in Asia last year under the title Tom-Yum-Goong (the name of a spicy Thai soup as well as the restaurant where Kham gets his leads). New music has been added for the American release, which has also been tightened by some twenty minutes.

Credits

Cast: Tony Jaa, Phettkai Wongkhamlao, Bongkod Kongmalai, Jin Xing, Nathan B. Jones, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Lateef Crowder, Jonathan Patrick Foo, Damain de Montemas, Winai Poonpermponsiri, David Chatchavan Asavanod, Sotorn Rungruaeng, Amonphan Gongtragan, Nutdanai Kong, Lateef Crowder.

Credits: Directed by Prachya Pinkaew. Screenplay by Napalee, Piyaros Thongdee, Joe Wannapin, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee. Story by Prachya Pinkaew. Produced by Prachya Pinkaew, Sukanya Vongsthapat. Executive producer: Somsak Techaratanaprasert. Director of photography: Nuttawut Kittikun. Edited by Marut Seelacharoen. Production designer: Akadech Kaewkot. Costume designer: Ekabhume Nganchamang. Original music by The RZA. Additional music: Howard Drossin. Martial arts choreography: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai. Stunt coordinator: Panna Rittikrai. Associate producer: Sita Vosbien. Assistant producer: Piyaluck Mahatanasap. A Sahamongkol presentation of a Baa-Ram-Ewe production. In Thai, English, and Mandarin with English subtitles.

The Weinstein Co./Color/1.85/Dolby Digital/90 Mins./Rated R


Review: Flyboys

September 7, 2006

Once the stuff of legends, the exploits of the Lafayette Escadrille have receded into a dim, hazy past, one that is only fitfully brought to life in Flyboys. With its meticulous attention to detail and superior production values, the film promises much more than its unseasoned cast and thin plotting deliver. War buffs and curiosity seekers will be the primary audience.

The pilots in the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron composed of American volunteers who were trained by the French to fight the Germans in World War I, came from varied backgrounds. In real life they included luminaries like director William A. Wellman; here they are represented by “types”: Texas rancher Blaine Rawlings (James Franco), who has lost the family spread in a mortgage foreclosure; wealthy New Yorker Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine), pressured to join by his demanding father; Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), a black boxer who fled to Europe to avoid racism; wholesome William Jensen (Philip Winchester), out to continue his family’s tradition of service; and Eddie Beagle (David Ellison), a bad marksman with a shady past.

Once in France, the novices are taken in by a French captain (the affable Jean Reno, right now the perfect choice for a Charles de Gaulle biopic) and billeted with moody veteran Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson), whose pet lion gets more screen time than many of the fliers. Training, drinking, visits to the local bordello, and Blaine’s halting romance with local farmgirl Lucienne (Jennifer Decker) fill out the first half-hour of the film.

When it arrives, the first dogfight is an impressive mix of aerial footage and CGI, briskly staged and tightly edited. Subsequent battles are much less distinctive, despite the introduction of bigger planes, personal vendettas, and some far-fetched plot twists. One Nieuport 17 diving and strafing (or dodging and crashing) is much like any other, no matter how many close-ups of grimacing pilots are inserted into the action. Over time, the use of CGI only serves to turn the aerial battles into the big-screen equivalent of a computer game.

Apart from Decker, who’s very affecting in her big-screen debut, and the solid Labine, the younger actors often seem over-matched by the material. Franco, last seen boxing for the Navy in Annapolis, has the physique for his role, but little of the desperation and cunning one would expect from a pilot in his position.

This is the first feature in over a decade from director Tony Bill, a pilot himself. He makes room in the film for several real-life aerobatic pilots, like David Ellison, and clearly is devoted to presenting the period correctly. It’s a shame he didn’t have a stronger plot to work with. Still, if you’ve never seen a World War I aviation movie, Flyboys fits the bill.

Credits

Cast: James Franco, Martin Henderson, David Ellison, Jennifer Decker, Tyler Labine, Abdul Salis, Philip Winchester, Barry McGee, Keith McErlean, Christien Anholt, Pip Pickering, Kyle Hensher-Smith, Lex Shrapnel, Jean Reno.

Credits
: Directed by Tony Bill. Screenplay by Phil Sears & Blake T. Evans and David S. Ward. Story by Blake T. Evans. Produced by Dean Devlin, Marc Frydman. Executive producers: Phillip M. Goldfarb, James Clayton, David Brown, Duncan Reid. Director of photography: Henry Braham. Production designer: Charles Wood. Editor: Ron Rosen. Costume design: Nic Ede. Original score by Trevor Rabin. Special effects supervisor: Yves De Bono. Visual effects supervisor: Mark Franco. Co-producers: Kearie Peak, Marc Roskin. Associate producer: Rachel Olschan. An Electric Entertainment presentation, in association with Skydance Productions and Ingenious Film Partners, of a Dean Devlin production.

MGM/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/139 Mins./Rated PG-13


Review: Lassie

September 7, 2006

To anyone brought up on the TV series, or who remembers Lassie’s recent film incarnations, another version of the collie’s story may seem redundant. But by remaining true to the spirit of the source novel, writer/director Charles Sturridge has fashioned a surprisingly sturdy family adventure, one that should appeal to parents as well as children.

Eric Knight turned his short story into the novel Lassie-Come Home in 1940. The first screen version came from MGM in 1943, followed by movies and TV shows that gradually watered down the collie’s background while turning her into a sort of superheroine. This film returns to Knight’s original setting, a Yorkshire mining village just before the start of World War II. With coal production down and layoffs imminent, Sam Carraclough (John Lynch) is forced to sell his son Joe’s (Jonathan Mason) pet collie Lassie to the local Duke (Peter O’Toole), who plans to train her for his granddaughter Cilla (Hester Odgers).

But Lassie refuses to stay on the Duke’s estate, despite efforts by the brutish kennel master (Steve Pemberton) to pen her in. Even when the Duke takes Lassie to his manor in northern Scotland, the collie escapes and heads back home. She faces a journey over highlands, moors, and lochs, dodging the Duke’s pursuers as well as angry farmers, dogcatchers, and poachers. Her adventures are contrasted with young Joe’s sense of loss and with Cilla’s attempts to adjust to a harsh new life at boarding school.

Sturridge adds some unforced humor to a few scenes, but what’s striking about this Lassie is its uncompromising vision of life in Great Britain during the late Depression years. Unemployment, poverty, and illness are givens. Even the aristocrats seem to be aware that their years of privilege are ending. And with the looming war, death is a constant presence. The dour context makes Lassie’s perseverance all that more inspiring, and also heightens the impact of the lighter moments.

Stand-outs in the uniformly impressive cast include John Lynch’s strict but sympathetic father and Kelly Macdonald as an impassioned Glaswegian. O’Toole grasps all the layers of his character with disarming ease. As a mother forced into difficult choices, Samantha Morton shows heartbreaking strength and sensitivity in a role that could easily have turned maudlin.

As children who fall in love with Lassie, both Jonathan Mason and Hester Odgers give impressively natural performances. So do the various dogs who appear as Lassie, even though collies are better known for looks than brains. Howard Atherton’s cinematography makes excellent use of locations in Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, complemented nicely by a sympathetic score by Adrian Johnston.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of this Lassie is that it treats its viewers, both young and old, with respect. Sturridge tells the story is a straightforward manner, without the ironic winks and nudges that infect so many children’s films. With its hard edges and tender heart, Lassie is an utterly beguiling success.

Credits

Cast: Peter O’Toole, Samantha Morton, John Lynch, Peter Dinklage, Steve Pemberton, Jemma Redgrave, Jonathan Mason, Hester Odgers, Edward Fox, John Standing, Gregor Fisher, Kelly Macdonald, Jamie Lee, Robert Hardy, Nicholas Lyndhurst.

Credits: Directed by Charles Sturridge. Written by Charles Sturridge. Based on a novel by Eric Knight. Produced by Ed Guiney, Francesca Barra, Charles Sturridge. Executive producers: Steve Christian, Eric Ellenbogen, Louise Goodsill, Ralph Kamp, Andrew Lowe, Doug Schwalbe. Director of photography: Howard Atherton. Edited by Peter Coulson, Adam Green. Production designer: John Paul Kelly. Costume designer: Charlotte Walter. Music by Adrian Johnston. Music supervisor: Caitriona Walsh. Co-producers: Samuel Hadida, Victor Hadida. An Odyssey Entertainment presentation, in association with Isle of Man Film, Classic Media, and Firstsight Films, of an Element Films, Lassie Films, Ltd., and Davis Films production, with the support of the Irish Film Industry.

Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital/100 mins./Rated PG


Review: Invincible

September 7, 2006

The latest in Disney’s line of films about real-life sports figures covers Vince Papale, a bartender and substitute teacher who won a spot on the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles after an open tryout. Well made, but without the satisfying ending of films like Miracle or Road to Glory, Invincible will find its real niche with football fans and in the home market.

First-time director Ericson Core (who was also the film’s cinematographer) does an excellent job capturing Philadelphia in the 1970s, a gritty, desperate time when the city was plagued by strikes, layoffs, and reduced expectations all around. Renowned for its tough fans (who booed Santa Claus during one half-time show), the city had suffered through consecutive losing seasons from its sports franchises when Eagles owner Leonard Tose (Michael Nouri) hired college coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear, sporting a ridiculous wig) to lead the team. One of Vermeil’s first steps was to hold open tryouts, a public relations stunt that drew scores of dreamers hoping for a position on the team.

As Brad Gann’s script reminds viewers a bit too insistently, no one expected much from Vince Papale, especially not the wife who walks out on him as the movie opens. Even Vince doesn’t really believe he can make the team. In one of the film’s many astute moments, he has his bag already packed when cuts are announced, convinced he will be the first to go. His doubts almost cripple his relationship with Janet (Elizabeth Banks), on the rebound herself from an affair with a married man.

With its somber hues and intimations of defeat, the first half of the film takes viewers into a hard-edged, blue-collar world Disney rarely visits. It wouldn’t be a Disney film if Vince didn’t make the squad, but what’s curious is how little achieving his dreams improves his life. In fact, the personal animosities, hellish physical demands, guilt over abandoning his friends, and constant pressure to perform seem more like punishments. Invincible has very little pro football footage, and what it shows is often just a violent blur. That’s partly due to the fact that Papale doesn’t become a champion, but more because the filmmakers want to concentrate on Vince as part of a tight-knit South Philly community. It’s a commendable approach, but one without the easy uplift of most sports films.

Wahlberg, in fine physical shape, turns in a restrained performance, leaving most of the acting chores to a convincing Kevin Conway as Vince’s father Frank, Michael Rispoli as a sympathetic bartender, and Kirk Acevedo, Dov Davidoff, and Michael Kelly as close friends. These are fully rounded, difficult characters who get enough time to explain themselves, another sign of integrity in a film that never settles for easy answers.

Cast and crew

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rispoli, Kevin Conway, Kirk Acevedo, Dov Davidoff, Michael Kelly, Nicoye Banks, Turron Kofi Alleyne, Cosmo DeMatteo, Stink Fisher, Michael Mulheren, Michael Nouri, Jack Kehler, Paige Turco.

Credits: Directed by Ericson Core. Written by Brad Gann. Based on the life story of Vincent Papale. Produced by Gordon Gray, Mark Ciardi, Ken Mok. Executive producers: Victor H. Constantino, Nicole Reed, Ezra Swerdlow. Director of photography: Ericson Core. Production designer: Sarah Knowles. Film editor: Jerry Greenberg. Costume designer: Susan Lyall. Music by Mark Isham. A Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Mayhem Pictures production.

Walt Disney Pictures/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/104 Mins./Rated PG