American Underdog

There is nothing subtle about this story, nor should there be. While it is not a documentary, it is an accurate docudrama about a real life sports underdog story, the kind that will turn off the cynics in the world but should make sentimentalists everywhere year up in joy. This is a life affirming, dramatic and ultimately inspiring story of a guy who climbed to the highest echelon in his sport, from the lowest point possible. This movie helps explain to people who don’t really care much about sports, why it is about so much more than just the score at the end of the game. 

The actor who plays Kurt Warner, is Zachary Levi, who I know mostly from the movie Shazam!, although he has been in a bunch of stuff that many of you will recognize. He is very well cast, having the facial characteristics of the real Kurt Warner without being a doppelganger. He is also a good actor who manages to convey the weaknesses of Warner while also pushing forward his best characteristics. While I was watching the film, I kept thinking to myself that the actress playing Brenda Meoni, his eventual wife, was really good. I thought it was too bad the Awards season handicapping had not included her in any of their forecasts. Then I realized who it was at the end and thought, well damn, there is a reason she was so good. This is not a newcomer but Anna Paquin, who has been doing great work since she was nine years old. She is terrific in this meaty part and she tears into it with great energy.

Football is a frequent subject of movies, and there are lots of inspiring stories built around the game. People who love Ted Lasso but don’t like football may see some of the positive vibes of that fictional character in this real life player. Look, we know the film is based on Warner’s autobiography and that he and his wife are producers on the film, so it will probably be a lot sunnier than the real experience, except there are some pretty tough experiences in their relationship that are covered by the film. Some people might be put off by the Christian values at the heart of their experience, fearful that they are going to get a sermon rather than a story. Don’t worry, those moments that are spiritual in nature are mostly universal, and it never feels like you are being preached to, only that you are shown how the couple’s faith supplements the decision making process and lives that they lead. 

Dennis Quaid is listed on the poster but his part is largely as a background character with a few inspirational moments. The third lead in the film is a young actor named Hayden Zaller, he plays Zack, Kurt’s special needs stepson who sees thing in Kurt despite the fact that he is blind. Bruce McGill, ia a familiar face who plays the founder of the Arena Football league and the coach/owner of a team that helps nurture Warner to success. For those of you not familiar with arena football, it is a much different set of strategies and there are some significant differences in the two versions of the game. It’s nice as a former season ticketholder of an Arena Football team, to see the sport shown this way, it was not degrading but it certainly feels different.  

The directors Edwin and Jon Erwin, have made several inspirational films for the faith=based market, and that is another reason some people might shy away from the movie, but again you should not hesitate. They do a good job showing us the dramatic moments of Kurt and Brenda’s lives and they competently recreate the football environment. So if you are up for an inspiring drama based in reality, this is what you are looking for to start the year off on a hopeful note. After the last couple of years, we can use it. 

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