Gridiron Gang

Something like Invincible

The spate of "documentary" sports stories in the last couple of years has represented all levels of games from high school (Gridiron Gang, Heart of the Game, Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights), to college (Glory Road), to professional (Invincible), to Olympics (Miracle), and even to Paralympics (Murderball). So trying to say something new about the recent Gridiron Gang is as tough as playing that hardscrabble high school football for convicts.

The Rock plays Sean Porter, a tough but forgiving counselor/coach for a team of teenage delinquents, one of whom, Willy, has murdered his step-father. Sean's mantra is best expressed in his first speech to the team: "Everybody listen up. The Gridiron is a football field. On the Gridiron, we do it my way, not your way. Your way got you here. Whatever gang you claim, whatever hood you're from, this is your hood now." Well, although I'm not sure it's good to compare an urban war zone to a correctional institute, the speech reveals an overall soft, almost na?ve, view of teenage violence. The hood indeed comes to the institute.

It's not that you need to know the outcome for this hostile crew, but you can guess that the Rock is effective, given his inhuman physique and killer smile. If there is a surprise, it's that the going itself is unHollywood rough, with few victories and much interference from outside gangs, who like to settle scores for their incarcerated members, adding another layer to Rock's responsibilities. In fact, the depiction of gunfights in the hood is realistic enough to compete with the action on the field. In this way, Gridiron is something like Invincible, starring Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale, in which Papale has no easy time making the Eagles, enduring their vigorous training, or winning games.

It's effective in film to emphasize the importance of cooperation and heart; recent sports films have done better than most in showing that spirit.