McFarland, USA (2015)

The feel-good sports film is a genre Kevin Costner has always had a good handle on, from his baseball films in the late-80s and Tin Cup (1996), a much underrated golf comedy. He’s done some others about baseball again, boxing and American football more recently, but I didn’t catch those. However, this Disney film about an against-the-odds cross-country running team in late-80s California is his latest venture, and most pleasing it is too. Whale Rider director Niki Caro has been drafted in, and crafts a solid story of some young underprivileged Latin American kids in a poor Southern Californian town who are helped towards unlikely sporting glory by their high school coach Jim White (played by Costner, and affectionately called ‘blanco’ by the kids). White spots their potential as they run to and from the fields where they spend hours before and after school in the back-breaking labour of picking crops, and the film incidentally gives a good sense of some of that hidden labour that underlies our modern food systems, not to mention the rather less-hidden dimension of class and race-based tension that is palpable when the team start to meet their wealthier competition. The (white) White family are ostensibly at the story’s heart, but the film gives plenty of time to the seven kids on the running team and their extended families, particularly the star runner Thomas (Carlos Pratts), so as to avoid some of the crasser dimensions of movies condescending to the yokels/poor/racialised Other. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of genre clichés, but they’re handled as subtly as they can be, without distracting from the team achievement at the film’s core. And of course, Costner once again proves dependable in the lead.

McFarland, USA film posterCREDITS
Director Niki Caro; Writers Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson; Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw; Starring Kevin Costner, Carlos Pratts, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor; Length 129 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wandsworth, London, Sunday 27 September 2015.


Fast Girls (2011)

FILM REVIEW || Director Regan Hall | Writers Jay Basu, Noel Clarke and Roy Williams | Cinematographer John Lynch | Starring Lenora Crichlow, Lily James, Noel Clarke, Rupert Graves | Length 89 minutes | Seen at home (streaming video), Sunday 14 July 2013 || My Rating 2.5 stars likeable

© StudioCanal

In 2012, London hosted the Olympics, an event which was both a source of considerable local pride (as it turned out, though many of us, including myself, had been rather sceptical in the years running up to it) and the occasion for this movie about a group of young women competing in the 4x100m relay athletics event. Of course, the word Olympics is nowhere mentioned in the script, and the “2011 World Championships” at which they compete were made up for the film — the IOC jealously guard their brand — but this film was unquestionably intended to tie in with the incipient mood of London 2012 fever.

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