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MCFARLAND (review)


Written by Grant Thompson / Directed by Niki Caro / Starring Kevin Costner, Maria Bello and Ramiro Rodriguez

Jim White: There’s nothing you can’t do with that kind of strength…with that kind of heart.

Has MCFARLAND been done before? Yes. Is it still a touching story? Yes.

It’s 1987. After an incident at his current workplace leaves him unemployed, Jim White (played by Kevin Costner) is forced to relocate his family to the rather dismal town of McFarland, California, and accept the less-than-enticing position of physical education teacher at the local high school. McFarland High’s disengaged students stare out the window at the prison next door and either think of their relatives currently incarcerated or picture their inevitable futures there. That’s just the reality of their collective situation.

Coach White has other ideas. Taking note of a remarkable ability in several of his students, he forms a running team and dedicates all the time and resources at his disposal (and then some) to making his group of misfits the fastest kids around.


But beyond speed, White inspires his runners to want more from life than what their situations have dealt them, to value education and effort and the pursuit of purpose. Through his work, White learns to treasure his own wife Cheryl (Maria Bello, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE), as well as his daughters, and to love the town and job he was initially forced to accept.

MCFARLAND really is the typical inspirational sports drama. The once-reluctant teacher/coach, through selflessness and dedication, overcomes the resistant attitude of his stubborn students and succeeds at turning their lives around by encouraging them to chase their dreams. But it works. And although the audience is undoubtedly left with an uncanny sense of big screen déjà vu, it isn’t an issue.


This is for two reasons, mainly. The first is Costner. He oozes emotion in this role and all but becomes Jim White. The audience has his back from the opening scene and he’s the perfect, imperfect coach, husband and father. The second is that, while Hollywood has once again taken the actual events that happened to White and added an embellishment here and nod to dramatic license there, the end result is not over-the-top. The story isn’t pretending to be anything it’s not and it remains relatively simple and straightforward throughout. That’s refreshing.

Essentially, to see MCFARLAND’s trailer is to see MCFARLAND. The audience’s imagination can probably fill in the blanks quite accurately. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the journey should be written off.

3.5 sheep

Your turn!

How many sheep would you give McFarland?


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