There’s been so many iconic football movies now it’s hard to make a bad one. The template is rock solid and doesn’t need significant deviations. As a football film, Greater smartly sticks to the playbook in delivering an emotional and enjoyable pigskin pic. Watching an unlikely underdog overcome the odds to achieve a dream never gets old.
But Greater aspires to do more than score with football aficionados than its real life story. The filmmakers raise honest, thought-provoking questions about faith and fairness. On that front, the film fails to fully connect despite its good intentions.
Brandon Burlsworth (Christopher Severio) decides he’s going to become a football player. Not the glamorous quarterback, elusive running back or punishing linebacker however. Brandon dreams of being an offensive lineman for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Accomplishing that goal proves tricky as his size and overall lack of ability. Undeterred, Brandon starts off as an overachiever on his high school before walking on to Arizona in an even more unlikely position.
Severio gives an earnest, likable performance in headlining an all-around solid cast. Greater didn’t need Oscar winning performances and the cast delivers exactly what’s needed.
Neal McDonough (Arrow season 4’s main villain) plays Marty, Brandon’s nearly 20 years older brother. Talented as he is, at 50, McDonough seems better suited to be Brandon’s father. McDonough and Leslie Easterbook and Michael Parks, who play Brandon and Marty’s parents, bring the emotional depth to their performances to make the film more than a Hallmark movie.
Director David Hunt takes an interesting approach in telling Brandon’s story. Instead of a linear approach, Marty reflects on his brother’s life. That leads to some tough to follow transitions that puts more pressure on the film’s final act to truly pay off.
While they’re not superhero-sized blockbusters, shooting a decent looking football film doesn’t come cheap. A good one (The Blind Side, Remember the Titans) runs about $29 million, but can be as extravagant as Oliver Stone’s $55 million Any Given Sunday.
With a mere $4 million budget, Hunt had to get creative. For a film about an offensive lineman, the on field close ups are adequate if lacking the grandiose feel of the gladiator gridiron experience. Hunt seemed to use some green screens for larger stadium shots. It avoids looking cheap, but the limited budget is obvious.
An underlining theme of the film is Brandon’s faith, but it’s implied more than shown in action. Hunt and co-writer Brian Reindl seem to want to appease secular audiences by not calling much attention to the impact faith had on Brandon’s life. That feels like a cheat though. We’re left to simply infer it was faith that kept Brandon chasing his dreams and maintaining a saintly demeanor.
Facing the Giants, another football and faith film, didn’t shy away from embracing its Christian themes. That’s a smarter play since the mere mention of Christ will have some audience members fearing they’re being sermonized.
Brandon’s story is inspirational, but the film never fully fleshes out his inspiration. Marty’s encounter with a farmer (Nick Searcy) is the culmination of the film’s message, but ends on an unsatisfactory note. The farmer’s thoughts are more sensible while Marty already rocky faith hardly seems up to the philosophical confrontation.
As a basic football film Greater is perfectly adequate, but it could have truly lived up to its title with stronger convictions on its faith component.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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