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A Superb Values Movie, No Rugby Experience Required
on November 20, 2009
USA Rugby partnered well with this film's producers and distributors when it opened, and a lot of rugby clubs held screenings all over the country as fundraisers; I went to the TC Williams Rugby showing in Alexandria, Virginia. Unfortunately, this film was packaged as, and consequently was received by the American movie-going public as "the rugby movie." So unfortunately it didn't do well, and was out of theaters quickly. That's too bad, as this is not a rugby movie. It's a movie about values and ethics, honesty and integrity, honor and respect, about family and team, and ultimately about growth, redemption, and the transformative power of making a genuine effort, set in the context of rugby.
This is an excellent family film, and even better for just dads and sons to watch together. For the non-rugby viewers: it doesn't matter if you don't know a thing about rugby. For the ruggers: you'll love a well-crafted movie on teamwork, with accurate portrayals of our game.
This movie is not about rugby; it's about teaching young men the value of teamwork, camaraderie, and that everyone benefits when you become part of something bigger than yourself. This movie is about sacrifice, honor, integrity, and the power of working as a group toward a shared goal. Highland Rugby is the unstoppable juggernaut of American U-19 rugby not because they work harder, but because every single young man in that organization works for the betterment of the team, and not for himself. In this environment, winning becomes merely a by-product.
Synopsis: A talented yet vain high school rugby star ends up in juvie after a DUI. The angry and arrogant hard case is brought into the Highland rugby program and slowly learns the power of teamwork, selflessness, and becoming part of something bigger, which makes him a better man, and a winner.
Comparisons to Remember the Titans and Friday Night Lights are in order, the only difference here being that the sport is unfamiliar rugby. No matter; if you or your kids come out of it wanting to see what rugby is all about, all the better. If you are a rugger, then you will recognize the joy in teamwork you've come to love, enjoy the accurate action sequences, and will be happy to see the game treated very well, with very little modification to make it palatable to the rugby-ignorant greater public.
Alcohol and drugs are very clearly portrayed negatively throughout the film, and by the end our hero/former party-boy makes positive choices, on his own and for the right reasons. That being said, this film is not Disney-sweet or preachy, and also shows that these rugby players are not choir boys. They are very serious hard-chargers who know how to have fun, but fun that is legal and does not bring shame to themselves, their team or their families.
Refreshingly, the film does not shy away from the fact that rugby is an intense, full-contact sport and that top-level play is a rough environment. There are lots of bruises, and a bit of blood. One player gets a gnarly bloody nose, which he wipes off with grass. One scene, taking things a bit too far I think, showed a medic pulling a tooth from a gash on a player's forehead. Now, I've seen this injury myself, more than once, so it's legit, but showing it in the movie is not a good way to get kids--and more importantly their protective parents--to come out to learn and play rugby.
The rugby play is excellent, very well represented and accurate. There are a few very well done action sequences with the camera integrated into the action, with good accompanying sound, which is very much like being involved in actual play. The match play-by-play integrates well to explain what is happening. The referee reactions are also completely in keeping with the game, such as when the ref sends our boy off with a red card early in the movie, and when an opponent receives a yellow card near the end.
There are some powerful dramatic moments in this film, definitely not maudlin or syrupy, and yes, they did get this 28-years-playing lock forward's eyes to water.
As a youth rugby coach, I wish there were a way I could legally make dozens of copies of this film and hand one out to every single one of my players. No, this movie will not teach them how to play rugby, but if it teaches them about honesty and integrity, and the power of effort and teamwork, then most of my job as coach is already done.
Here's my suggestion to readers/buyers: buy a copy, and when you're done with it, give it to a friend, and ask them to pass it on. I've already done this; let's get this movie moving through the community. Let's get kids excited about rugby, and whether they play or not, let's get kids to realize the power of ethical behavior, and how it can have immediate and real benefits for them and those around them.
Bottom line: This is a straightforward bad-boy teen redemption tale, with a predictable plot line. You know where it's going to end up, and basically how it's going to get there. But the characters and story are powerful, and they deliver a very well crafted message of respect, integrity and teamwork, without beating you over the head with the overused Hollywood Message Mallet. All of this takes place in the context of a real-life high school rugby success story.