Creed Opinions: McFarland, USA

The McFarland Cross Country team and Coach White (right)

Below contains a review of McFarland, USA. Minor details are included and are necessary for a thorough analysis of the film. Read on at your own discretion.

At St. George’s, the Cross Country team has a rich history of excelling at competitions due to the continuous support from the coaches and members of the team. As a member of the team myself, I can truly say that the strong bond between the coaches and the runners gives us encouragement and allows us to perform our very best at every race. But what if this relationship did not exist? What would happen if a coach failed to find any common ground and struggled to connect with the students’ on a personal level?

Based on the 1987 true story, McFarland, USA follows the life of Jim White (Kevin Costner), a coach who takes on a new job as a P.E teacher for a high school in the town of McFarland, California. As he becomes acquainted with the city and the people, he begins to feel alienated, living in a town populated with predominantly lower-class Hispanic people, many of whom work as farmers. Furthermore, he finds himself struggling to gain the respect of his students. However, White soon notices that some of his students possess extraordinary running abilities that stem from their lifestyle, a lifestyle that involves travelling everywhere by foot. After witnessing their potential, White proposes to form and coach the first ever McFarland cross country team, consisting of unlikely but naturally gifted students. Thus begins an inspiring journey through the cross country season as a group of underdogs fights its way to the top, and the relationships between a coach and his students flourish.

Critically acclaimed for some of her other films, director Niki Caro did a remarkable job with regards to casting. Costner, a seasoned veteran in the realm of acting, is no stranger to taking on the roles of characters who experience a plethora of emotions; his performance as Coach White in this film is no exception to his mastery in captivating audiences. There are also many instances when it is made clear the natural ability Costner possesses to radiate unbridled emotion through the screen to the viewer, such as the poignant scene in which Costner talks to his “daughter” during her birthday party.

But for me, the true stars of the film are the up-and-coming actors who play the student-athletes. Rising Hollywood stars such as Carlos Pratts and Ramiro Rodriguez each perfectly capture the personas of their characters; their performances make the progression of the students’ relationships with their coach all the more believable and powerful. Although all of them have different personalities and roles on the team, they come together as one and display a natural, realistic degree of chemistry throughout.

Despite such an inspiring plot and outstanding acting, certain noticeable aspects of the film detract from its overall quality. From time to time, the screenplay is a bit perfunctory and seems as if the producers simply wanted to rely on Costner’s gift of speech to convey the emotion. Furthermore, as a sports underdog film, much of the storyline is very predictable and often too derivative of the genre. Some cliché events that are bound to happen in a film with a similar plotline are not avoided but rather hit full on, making for an over-sentimentality that is not necessary for the plot development of this particular film.

Overall, McFarland, USA is a feel-good and uplifting picture that, despite its notable flaws, sends a compelling message to all viewers. Even though it struggles to move past the sports-film clichés, McFarland, USA definitely reaches the finish line, largely due to a brilliant cast and a heartwarming story, a story that displays the limitless potential of ordinary people.

My rating: 8/10 (surely worth a look!)