From its opening frame till the final shot McFarland, USA is right on target. Thanks to swift, assured direction from New Zealander Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) and another winning performance from Kevin Costner, the film never lags for interest and proves, yet again, that a sports movie can raise themes that stimulate the mind and tug at the heartstrings. McFarland, USA is ideal family viewing for those tired of animated fare.
Jim White (Kevin Costner) is out of his element and comfort zone when he takes on the role of track coach at a predominantly Latino high-school in California’s Central Valley. Removed from his position as football coach due to a disagreement over a boy playing while nursing a concussion, Coach White finds himself relegated to organizing the school’s first ever cross-country track team. His physical education class is a training ground and White spots seven boys he needs to comprise the squad.
It takes some convincing, but eventually the students take to the sport, only to find that they are novices compared to other schools. Coach White must gain their trust, respect and approval while instilling in them self-worth. Individually, each member uses their incredible work ethic and drive to succeed in forging a championship running team. However, complications arise in various forms, one kid’s family sees track as horseplay and taking valuable time away from working in the fields.
The screenplay does a good job of delivering familiar scenes with just enough of an original spin to keep things interesting. Costner is right in his wheelhouse as Coach Jim White, he’s not a barker like Hackman in Hoosiers, he’s a controlled man who sees an opportunity for advancement and gains understanding and compassion instead. I thought I had grown hardened to the Disney sports movie formula, but I’m not too proud to admit, McFarland, USA melted me.
Stars: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor