This may be the “feel good” movie of the first quarter. Yes, it’s a bit long and with the subject of cross country running, it’s not quite as exciting as it might be with another sport, but Kevin Costner gives an understated and stoic performance and the result is a movie that touches the heart and tells an entertaining story. Even better – it’s based on a real coach and a real team and a string of events that couldn’t have happened to a better – or more under-privileged – set of kids. It all took place in the 1980’s, in McFarland, CA, a community north of Bakersfield with a population of 12,700, of whom 11,600 are Latino or Hispanic. This is farm country where most families are “pickers,” helping to harvest the crops that grow out there—and little time for anything else.
That’s the situation Jim White (Costner) brought his family into. He was a high school teacher and a coach at the end of his line. When he’s also fired from his job as Assistant Football Coach at McFarland, he has an idea: Why not start a cross country team? With the help of a student, he recruits six other kids and begins to put them through their paces. Along the way, he starts to better understand the people in the community where he lives – and they begin to better appreciate him and what he wants for their kids. The question is: how good can these kids really be? Can they face the best schools with kids who have the best equipment and the most privileged lives – and come out a winner? You know the answer to that, of course, but somehow it all fits together and it all comes together. Costner is solid, the kids are likeable and although there are some situations you’ll see coming from a mile away, there is enough truthfulness in here to provide not only an entertainment experience, but a learning experience as well. This is not a great movie, but it’s an inspirational one worth seeing because it stresses the value of hard work, persistence, and dedication to teamwork and to a goal. It’s not just about a man changing a community, it’s about a community changing a man. And you’ll leave with a new appreciation for what migrant families endure as they pursue their American Dream.