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McFarland (3 stars)

Kevin Costner is back to his nuanced best in this heartwarming sports film

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McFarland

Small films are sometimes where great actors go to die but, in Kevin Costner’s case, they’re where he goes to do fine work. The modestly budgeted McFarland is a good example. Like Bull Durham or Tin Cup, it's Costner playing the guy with the eye in an inspirational sports film.

Based on a true story from 1987, it sees a team of plucky Mexican-Americans from McFarland High School in California compete against elite cross-country runners. The trials and eventual triumph of the underdogs is far from a new thing in films, nor is adding a down-on-his-luck teacher as a coach. But the subtlety and grit that's woven into the storyline turns McFarland from the kind of film you might avoid because of its apparent familiarity, to a film you should watch because it actually says something new.

Costner’s performance as trainer Jim White is the actor at his nuanced best. That he has such presence here is also thanks to sensitive direction by Niki Caro, of Whale Rider fame, and a solid supporting cast that includes Maria Bello, Ramiro Rodriguez, Carlos Pratts and Johnny Ortiz. Struggling through the standard motivational problems, we expect the McFarland runners to win the state championship, but we don’t expect to see that their home lives affect how they get there. The film’s most memorable moments are when we’re shown how hard it is for the aspiring athletes and their families to make ends meet. Coach White tries their lifestyle, complete with the ruinously fatiguing fieldwork that ravages their hands, and he can’t keep up. McFarland makes much of the everyday dignity of ordinary people who want to achieve something.

Although it doesn’t strictly adhere to the facts, McFarland is a treasure trove of sporting goodness, while also being a warm, human tale about love, family and learning that a high pain threshold is part of the ticket to success.

Selected release from Fri 25 Sep.

McFarland

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • 129 min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Niki Caro
  • Written by: Christopher Cleveland / Bettina Gilois
  • Cast: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Ramiro Rodriguez
  • UK release: 25 September 2015

Jim White (Costner) is a down-on-his-luck high school football coach who sees that some of his Hispanic students have potential as cross-country runners. Based on a true story, this sports film shows unexpected grit and sensitivity and Costner gives a fine, nuanced performance that allows the supporting cast to shine.

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