September 14, 2006

Cooking Up Some Inspiration


This may seem like an odd request, but Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson should give up his career in showbiz. With his sensitivity, strength and palpable kindness on screen, we could really use him in other arenas—a hostage negotiator maybe or a therapist at Guantánamo Bay. On screen, there doesn’t seem to be any male ego he can’t soften, win over or tame. Yes, that’s right. After watching his performance in Gridiron Gang, Cinecultist can indeed smell what the Rock is cooking and it’s called inspiration. Unlike revenge, it is not a dish best served cold.

The big conversion happened about a third of the way into this redemption through sports picture. Corrections officer Sean Porter at Camp Kilpatrick in Los Angeles is trying his damnedest to turn this rag tag bunch of delinquent gang bangers and drug dealers into a football team. But a visitor's day shakes up some of the potentially best players, as reminders of their messed up home lives start to intercede on their rehabilitation. One kid is visibly upset by a fight with his mom and Porter begins to build him back up with a offer that they should go over some new plays in the playbook. Just that smallest token of support is all most of these kids need. Maybe that sounds naive, but in that moment CC thought, The UN Peacekeeprs could really use a good man like the Rock on their side.

CC often finds it difficult to really analyze sports movies for their merits of realism. To us, it's a lot of running, throwing and catching. But Gridiron communicates a nice sense of urgency in all of this sweating, especially as the drama leads to that final important game. The plot, the characters and their collective struggles really do have you on your feet rooting for their victory, a feeling more essential to this lay viewer than any realistic calls or plays. In a few moments, the turn around of many of these excellent teen actors seems too effortless. But a third act moment of real seeming brutality on the field quickly dissuades that jaded assumption. The film is tagged as based on true events, and that moment made CC believe the reality of its East L.A. milieu.

Robin Williams' John Keating, Edward James Olmos's Jaime Escalante and Morgan Freeman's Joe Clark all have a new fellow educator in Johnson's performance as Sean Porter. We tip our hat to you, sir.

Posted by karen at September 14, 2006 6:11 PM