January 1, 2022 – The story of Kurt Warner's unlikely rise to stardom in the National Football League is firmly planted in flyover country, complete with country-western music on the soundtrack, faith on its sleeve, and nary a scene at the ocean beach or in the Rocky Mountains.
Although Warner has the size and arm strength to play in the NFL, and had a successful college career as a quarterback at the University of Northern Iowa, he is not drafted by any NFL team. The only NFL team interested in him is the Green Bay Packers, who sign him and then quickly drop him from the practice squad before he takes a snap.
Warner is later actively recruited by the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League. This is a very different kind of football, played indoors on a much smaller playing area with special rules to account for the nature of the spaces in which the game is played. The pace of the game is much quicker, but Warner adjusts his game to the quicker pace and thrives.
The low pay and extensive travel of Arena Football takes a toll on his personal life, however, as his relationship with his girlfriend, Brenda Meoni (played by Anna Paquin of “X-Men: The Last Stand”) hits the skids. Brenda, a single mother, with a child with special needs, Zach (Hayden Zaller) struggles to get by. The ups and downs of the love story between Warner and Brenda (which began when Warner was in college) makes up the majority of the movie.
In the movie, much is made of the fact that doctors greatly underestimate the potential of Zach (who received a severe head injury as a child) just as football experts underestimate Warner. The relationships between Warner and Brenda, Zach, and Brenda's father, (played by Danny Vinson) are key parts of the film's dramatic non-football scenes.
In between football jobs after college, Warner knocks around in various jobs, including supermarket stockboy. At one point, he is homeless. He lives in Brenda's parent's basement for a time. One of the low points in his life has him walking for five miles in freezing cold weather to get gas for his car, while Brenda and her children huddle in the car. They are broke at the time.
Later, as a star quarterback in the Arena Football League, Warner gets noticed by the St. Louis Rams of the NFL, and gets a tryout, but the Rams Offensive Coordinator, Mike Martz (Chance Kelly) seems to be against him, while the Rams head coach, Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid of “Midway”) pulls for Warner, being somewhat of an underdog himself. By the way, Dennis Quaid stars in a couple of other good football movies, “Everybody's All-American” (1988) and “Any Given Sunday ” (1999).
Warner makes the Rams squad as a second-string quarterback, against the odds. Even more remarkable, he rises to stardom in the NFL, achieving the highest honors and successes. He becomes known as the greatest undrafted player of all time. His rags to riches story is quite similar to that of fellow Hall of Famer, Johnny Unitas.
This isn't quite a full-fleged, they-got-what-they-prayed-for, faith-based movie, but the Christian faith of some of the main characters is on full display. The film's directors, brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin (“The Jesus Music”) previously directed another football movie, “Woodlawn,” but I would be surprised if they decide to make a movie about another famous football player, Colin Kaepernick.
This is a straight up biographical drama told in chronological order (unlike my review) which benefits from strong performances, and a Horatio Alger-type story that is a natural winner. In lesser hands, this story, and the faith-based aspects of it, could have been overcooked, but the Erwin brothers handle this story with the right touch. It rates a B.
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