Verdict: 3 / 5
The Erwin Brothers’ inspiring faith-based indie film combines previous football hits like “Remember the Titans”, “Facing the Giants” and “Rudy” to tell the true sports story of the 1973 Woodlawn High School team. However, while it’s built on convincing performances and inspirational moments, Woodlawn lacks focus and takes way too long to score the final touchdown.
Although it’s centered on football, Woodlawn is a two-in-one biopic that focuses on the lives of determined white coach Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop), and Tony Nathan, a talented young black running back, who are caught in the middle of racially charged 1973 Birmingham. During the drama of the ’70s school integration, Gerelds’ team is losing and he has no idea how to bring the white and black players together. Then he meets Hank (Sean Astin), a Christian motivational speaker who asks to meet with the team. After hesitantly agreeing, Hank converts the entire team to Christianity, including Nathan. Of course, this raises some alarms for Gerelds, but once the results become positive and he witnesses the impact on the young men’s personal lives, he begins to question everything he believes.
With the recent wave of faith-based films making a real impact at the box-office, Woodlawn stands tall as the best of them. It’s the type of film that could easily appeal beyond the usual target audience of spiritually driven films. Unlike many of the others, which are filmed on shoestring budgets and employ untrained actors, Woodlawn sets its eyes on a bigger prize and, in the end, even though it’s a made by Christians for Christians film, there is a lot to respect about the filmmaking.
That said, the running time is far too long. The Erwin Brothers’ run far too many subplots that end up convoluting the story. In fact, there is a point two-thirds into the film that could have been a perfect ending for Woodlawn, but it continues to hammer away for a further 30 or 40 minutes in order to drive home its message – a message which is clear from the moment the boys start winning. If you couple that with the overpowering score, the lack of coherence, and the abundance of characters, the film feels a bit scattered, especially towards the end.
With its big-hearted message of love and hope, Woodlawn succeeds for at least half of the movie. It’s a great step for faith-based films and will (and should) receive praise for its efforts, but it’s far from a perfect film. Still, it’s motivation is pure and it will do well with those looking for a break from Hollywood’s guns, sex, and profanity.