"Woodlawn" Scores Big

"Woodlawn" is sure to run up a big score at movie theaters this week. It is a combination of "Remember the Titans", "Facing the Giants" and "Rudy". From the first it gets its subject of racial integration in high school sports; from the second its Christian faith theme; and from the third the presence of Sean Astin. These are three winners from the past and "Woodlawn" deserves to be in the winners category too.

The movie is based on a true story about a Birmingham, Alabama high school in the early seventies. The school is having a rough time making the transition from an all white student body to an integrated one. The coach of the football team, Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop) is at a loss as to how he can bring them together. But then he meets Hank (Astin), a religious motivational speaker who asks if he can speak to the team. When he does, the team is converted to Christianity.

This helps the school students to work and play together but it also causes problems with the administration who frown on such displays of faith on the field and in the classrooms. Coach Gerelds has to walk a narrow path in staying true to himself and his players, and not antagonizing the school board.

The movie is definitely a faith based film but it stands apart from other recent movies in that genre. It has a talented cast led by Bishop and Astin, and strongly supported by Caleb Castille as the team's star player Tony Nathan, Jon Voight as Bear Bryant, and Sherri Shepherd as Tony's Mother. They all fit easily into their roles and create a story the audience can relate to emotionally. Plus the movie delivers its message in an entertaining way.

If there is a weakness in the movie it is in the depth of the characters. Somehow the audience never gets to "know" the characters as completely as it wants. You get the general idea of who they are and what they are trying to achieve, but that is not the same as having a truly empathetic relationship with them.

Still the story does pack an emotional wallop, made even stronger by the fact it is based on truth. It also is a message movie about love, faith and understanding. We can never have too much of that in a film.

The movie is rated PG for football violence.

So go see "Woodlawn". It is a movie that gets your tear ducts going, revs up the chill factor, and sends you out of the theater resolved to be a better person.

I scored "Woodlawn" a faithful 7 out of 10.

Jackie K Cooper