As a plane filled with members of the Marshall University football team, boosters, family members, coaches, staff, and airline crew, was about to land at the airport serving Huntington, West Virginia on November 14, 1970, it crashed during a storm. 75 people lost their lives. The small town was devastated.
Dean Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) and some of the university’s board members want to close down the football program to honor those who died. But one student and team member, Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie), rallies the students to keep it going.
Dedmon contacts all previous Marshall players who became coaches and offers them the job of coaching the new team. They all turn him down. Then Dedmon gets a letter from a coach in Ohio, Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey). He tells Dedmon that he cannot imagine what the university and town must be going through and offers to help. Lengyel then prods Dedmon to get permission for freshmen to play so that Marshall can have a lineup when the new season begins.
We Are Marshall seems at first to be another football movie (!) but it is more a journey through grief and for the few remaining players and an assistant coach (played by Matthew Fox; Lost), an experience of their struggle to overcome survivor’s guilt. We are Marshall is the story of a team and a community that together got up and kept going, rising from the ashes, as does the mythical phoenix.
None of the actors (and you will recognize many) stand out in the film; it’s as if they became a team to tell this heartbreaking story of hope. If you remember the 70’s you will recall the plaid polyester fashions but McConaughey’s too long hair may not make you too nostalgic. Yet hip director McG (The OC; Charlie’s Angels and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), who was only about 2-years old when the events in the film took place, does a credible job of taking us back and making us feel what it must have been like that fateful night of November 14, 1970 and the months that followed. The film shows the power of empathy, is full of heart -- and there are lots of man-tears.
The film has a BK rating (bring Kleenex).