[Moving picture of popcorn]

Laramie Movie Scope:
McFarland USA

A sports movie about a melding of cultures

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

March 11, 2015 -- This is a solid inspirational sports movie about a clash of cultures, Hispanic and Anglo Saxon, which eventually meld together to unite an impoverished California agricultural community in the 1980s.

Kevin Costner, well-known for his sports movies (Field of Dreams and Bull Durham, among others) is back in the genre again as Jim White, a football coach who is out of options after losing his temper and injuring a player. The only school who will hire him is in the small, impoverished agricultural town of McFarland, California. He doesn't get along with the head football coach at the school, so he finds himself teaching P.E.

McFarland is not a football or basketball power since the students tend to be on the short, small side. White notices that he does have some good runners in his class, however, and he hits on the idea of starting up a cross-country running team. He's got the running talent, but he has no experience coaching track and field. He has to learn as he goes.

He also has problems with his family feeling out of place in the Hispanic culture of McFarland. Even the family name, White, is a source of jokes by the locals. White's students are mostly pickers. They pick crops early in the morning until school starts. After school, they pick crops until dark. They have no cars or bikes, so they run from the fields to school and run from school to the farm fields.

White's wife, Cheryl White (played by Maria Bello of “Prisoners”) is able to adjust better than their oldest daughter, Julie (Morgan Saylor of the “Homeland” TV series) or their youngest daughter Jamie (Elsie Fisher). White worries about gang violence and the crime rate in McFarland. He wants to get out, and a successful track team might be his ticket to a better life.

Then the Whites make friends in the local community and they learn about the Hispanic culture. White meets with the parents of some of his runners. He goes to the fields and learns first-hand how hard his runners work every day. He makes allowances. He adjusts. He learns to work cooperatively with the local people and the local culture.

There are problems, of course, and one frightening incident, but basically the Whites and the local community come together around the cross country team. In a town starved for winners, recognition and excellence, all three are found in a small group of stalwart runners. At the same time, the runners are the embodiment of the town and its culture.

In a time when organized school, college and professional sports are cut off from the lives of ordinary people, are tainted by corruption, lawlessness, brutality and elitism, this is a throwback to the sports movies of old. It inspires us to strive for greater things, and shows we are stronger united than divided. Conservative pundits will tell you that American Hispanics are our enemies and their culture is harmful to America. This movie shows the strength and resilience of that culture and how it is just as much a part of the American fabric as any other.

The acting in this film is solid by the whole cast. The running and training scenes are well staged. New Zealand director Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”) does a nice job with this film, which takes advantage of its sometimes scenic California locations. This film is based on a true story. There is a nice montage with captions at the end of the film showing the real people depicted in the film and what happened to them later on. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

[Strip of film rule]
Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
[Strip of film rule]
Back to the Laramie Movie Scope index.
[Rule made of Seventh Seal sillouettes]

Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)