Woodlawn is a giant leap forward in the faith movie genre. It isn't a perfect film but does deserve a little grace.
PG | Drama
Review - Matt Mungle
**In theaters October 16, 2015**
Synopsis: A gifted high school football player must learn to embrace his talent and his faith as he battles racial tensions on and off the field.
Review: Faith based films are getting far less cringe inducing with each new project. Before you sort of had to overlook the Sunday School script, the bad acting from untalented pew mates of the director, and the all around unrealistic material designed to pump up the choir. Thankfully WOODLAWN is a giant leap forward in the faith movie genre. It isn't a perfect film but does deserve a little grace.
Set in the 1970's the "based on a true story" plot follows high school football phenom Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille) as he tries to overcome the obstacles of racial tension and segregation in the deep south. If you saw Remember the Titans you know the drill. The entire community is about to derail when along comes Hank (Sean Astin). Hank is there, at his own invitation, to share the gospel message that recently changed his life at a revival in Dallas. He strongly believes that prayer and a devotion to Christ can turn around even the horrific situation taking place at the school.
The characters in the story are true and if you google Tony Nathan you can see how his life later progressed in the NFL. Hank is real. The coaches are real. So the fact that you have living breathing people adds some validity and depth to the story and outcome. This isn't a fictional account of "wouldn't it have been nice if" scenario. Football is a fantastic backdrop for unity and motivation. Combine that with the Jesus movement of the 70's and brother you have some strong fodder for a script; material that Directors Jon and Andrew Erwin use to their advantage.
It was also advantageous to bring in actors who not only embrace the story but have the talent to flesh it out on screen. This is a dramatic film and the emotion has to be believable. The audience has to be convinced that what you are preaching is right on. If not, the message loses its power to change. Astin delivers with the same conviction that helped get Frodo up that mountain. Jon Voight, Nic Bishop, and C. Thomas Howell also bring some acting chops to the mix. This is Castille's first film but you wouldn't know it by watching him. He creates a character that you can root for, empathize with, and cheer for a hundred times over. So this blend of talent along with the true account help to bring about a film that has the ability to reach farther than the church foyer.
That said... script writers for this genre still struggle with how to tell it like it is without making it sound preachy, or worse, like God is a Genie in a Bottle. Rub Him just right and you win games, stay safe, and get new trucks (wait that was another movie). Say a tiny prayer and David Duke and Farrakhan will hold hands and dance in the aisles. Yes prayer works. But in films many times it always seems to go the way the characters want it to. That can be dangerous if not handled correctly.
WOODLAWN is rated PG for thematic elements including some racial tension/violence. This was an inspiring movie to watch and will have you cheering and fist pumping. Football fans and those who like to watch origin stories of NFL players will take much from it. The editing of the film is fast and keeps the pace energetic. You feel each hit on the field while still being able to soak in every side line dialogue of faith and forgiveness. I give it 3.5 out of 5 extra points. It gave me hope not only in humanity and the power of prayer but the future of faith based films as well.