Gridiron Gang (2006)

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Review #248 of 365
Film: Gridiron Gang (2006) [PG-13] 120 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.50
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 16 September 2006
Time: 3:30 p.m.

Directed by: Phil Joanou (Final Analysis)
Written by: Jeff Maguire (Timeline) & Jac Flanders
Based On: Jac Falnders's tv documentary "Gridiron Gang"
Featured Cast (Where I Remember Him/Her From):
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson (The Scorpion King) • Xzibit (xXx: The State of the Union & Hoodwinked) • L. Scott Caldwell ("Lost") • Leon Rippy ("Deadwood") • Kevin Dunn (I Heart Huckabees) • Jade Yorker ("Third Watch") • David V. Thomas (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) • Setu Taase (debut) • Mo (Dirty) • James Earl ("ER") • Trever O'Brien (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story)

Soundtrack: Download now from Trevor Rabin - Gridiron Gang (Original Motion Picture Score) - or - order the CD below
Review Dedicated to: the real Sean Porter

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
From the first startling statistic that rolls on the screen "120,000 juveniles are in detention centers across the US" followed by "75% return to prison upon release" to the final credits which feature scenes from the television documentary which inspired the film, Gridiron Gang will have you in tears. How can a civilized society which claims to be a moral beacon in the world with free democracy and laws protecting every citizen allow street gangs in Los Angeles and across the nation determine the fate of so many of our children. These are children whose life expectancy is barely 21 years old. These are children who could be the artists, teachers, musicians, doctors, lawyers, politicians of the future whom our society abandons and allows to operate in a reckless fashion. Make no mistake, this is something that could be stopped if we galvanized all of our efforts and invested them in ensuring that every child in the USA grows up in a family where they feel loved, attends schools where their teachers are invested in their success, and lives in an environment where they are safe to be themselves.

"… a film that will rivet you to your seat and having you cheering in the aisle by the end."
Kudos to the real Sean Porter, the LA-area juvenile detention center social worker who, after seeing one last kid put back out onto the street and end up dead in a gang-related shooting not more that a few days later, decides to try to do something about the statistics. Here is a guy who takes on the "impossible because the possible isn't working". Incredibly portrayed by Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Sean Porter becomes a legendary football coach who galvanizes kids from rival and blood-thirsty gangs of LA into a cohesive non-aligned, high school, football team called, fittingly, the Mustangs. It seems like a good idea at first. What the kids need most is self-discipline, teamwork, safety, family, and motivation to become something bigger and better than they were. Most were gang bangers, car thieves, crack dealers, convenience store robbers, etc., and even murderers. These are kids from one-parent homes, across all racial lines, who lead lives of crime because they have too much time on their hands, who have parent(s) or guardian(s) who have to work too hard to give them as much attention as they need or cannot compete with the seductive nature of a gang run like a cult, and who face the reality of having their best friends shot on the way home from a legitimate part-time job. So, Sean Porter, with the modest support of his supervisors Paul Higa (Leon Rippy) and Ted Dexter (Kevin Dunn) and the complete devotion of his co-worker and asst. coach, Malcom Moore (Xzibit) and his dear mother dying of cancer, Bobbi (L. Scott Caldwell), Sean does the unthinkable and picks out a group of kids to form his football team. The first practice proves there will be a long road ahead before they will face off against the Barrington Panthers—the head coach of which has gotten the Mustangs a full schedule as part of the local Christian high school football league. Porter does all he can to get the kids ready, but he is facing great odds, and some internal issues including turning around 17 years of less than perfect upbringings and gang baggage the boys bring with them. The worst of which is between Willie Weathers (Jade Yorker) and Kelvin Owens (David V. Thomas) who are from mortal enemy rival gangs and have each witnessed a close friend or cousin killed by opposing gang members. Junior Palaita (Setu Tasse) want to be on the team but is forbidden because of his many, many run ins with the system. Other standouts from the cast included Mo as Leon Hayes, James Earl as Donald Madlock, and Trever O'Brien as Kenny Bates who wants nothing more than for his obviously troubled mother to love him.

As the practices progress, the team actually begins to look like it is gelling. Porter violates policy risking his job and orders the kids $10,000 worth of equipment they need for real practices and to face their first opponents. They head off for their first game excited and pumped and believing they can become winners at last. They have listened to their coach, done things his way, lost a player to injury during practice, and prepared for the game. Unfortunately, the Panthers have played together for three years, and they are more well prepared. The Mustangs lose their first game 38-0. Worse, Sean's supervisors feel the program must be cancelled because it is not building the desired self-esteem, instead, it is crushing the kids whom all seem to want to quit. Sean is broken hearted, but he his hands are tied, until the next day, when the kids all line up for practice without a coach. From that moment, the film catapults into a new level as the everything about the film gels as well. There is much more excitement and terrible heartbreak to come. We've not seen the last tragedy of Willie's and Kelvin's rival gang war, there's family visit day where parents and guardians don't get what's happening for their kids, there's a realization by Sean that he's becoming more and more like the father he hated all his life, and there's a team rally around Sean's mother's health that will break your heart. In the end, not to spoil it, there is triumph and amazing victory, there are kids that are completely turned around. There is so much excitement and positive energy surrounding the Mustangs and the success of the program that everyone forgets two very important things, and these are the things that still bring me to tears thinking about it now. First, this was/is a program. This is not a real high school football team. These are kids from a broken part of society thrown together and as much as it is an awesome idea and one that should be used everywhere not just with football but with putting on a musical, creating rock bands, science Olympiad teams, etc., nobody should forget for one minute that as hard as you try, as noble your efforts, you cannot wipe out 15-17 years of a kid's priors in one three-month football season. Second, the same temptations that existed before the program exist when the kid is released. If a kid can make $20,000 a month selling crack cocaine vs. $6.50 an hour working in a convenience store, struggling through the rest of high school, struggling through college, to maybe make it out of their 'hood', for some the choice is not so easy to make. So, the picture can seem rosy for all of two hours and then things can come crashing down. The reality is, I'm sorry to say, some of these young men ended back up in prison, some were killed fresh out of jail, and some continued in their gangs. But, and it's a huge but, some went off to high school football scholarships, and some went to college, and some took the convenience store jobs and worked to raise the family they had left behind. Sean Porter realized that he could not save everyone, but isn't it true, even though it's trite, that if even one is saved from their former life, their former self, the entire program was worth it? Facing a 75% figure, something had to be tried. Still hasn't the time come to attack the core of the problem that gets kids in gangs in the first place? It is possible to win the gang war, eliminate the gangs, and give these kids a better future, but it takes a whole army of Sean Porters and Malcolm Moores working together on the issue.

Gridiron Gang is an amazing film. When it comes to building a team, there are few films that have ever been made that show how you take a group of kids that literally hate each other and turn them into a real team. There's much to be learned about coaching as well, for Sean learns that the style of beat them into submission that so many coaches use and so many parents/guardians model, simply doesn't work in the end. You've got to earn the respect of your players by showing them that you care enough to help them when they fail. The performances are equally excellent by the veterans and the new comers to the profession. Phil Joanou has created a film that will rivet you to your seat and having you cheering in the aisle by the end. Do not forget, however, that embedded within there is also a call for understanding of this important societal problem if not a call to action.

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