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“McFarland, USA” deemed pleasant and effective

You’ve seen it countless times before. A non-traditional coach takes up a team of misfits and leads it to greatness. Did I mention that it’s based on a true story? Disney has presented viewers with this scenario in several movies such as “Glory Road,” “Miracle” and “Remember the Titans.” Despite this formula being overused and predictable, add in a great lead such as Denzel Washington, Kurt Russell or in this case Kevin Costner, and time and time again Disney will show you that it still works.

Costner plays Jim White, a football coach with a bad track record in previous coaching positions. Following this incident, he and his family move to McFarland, California: a rural, impoverished and primarily Hispanic community. He starts his new job as the assistant football coach, as well as taking up the life science/PE teacher position. It is clear from the start that White does not want to live in McFarland, and will accept a better job if the opportunity arises.

During PE class one day, Jim observes two Hispanic boys running laps. His daughter comments on how fast the boys run, and Jim notices the stamina that they possess. After continuing to watch them, he approaches the principal of the school requesting permission to start a cross-country team with these young men to compete in upcoming state championships.

Coach White does more than simply coach a cross-country team, however. He invests in the lives of the boys and provides them with greater opportunities that would not have been possible otherwise. He also learns humility and the value of hard work from the guys on his team, who spend their mornings working in their parents’ fields from the crack of dawn until they go to school.

Costner does an excellent job in portraying the various struggles that Jim White endured to gain the trust of the guys on his team. Jim holds nothing back in guiding his team to excellence academically, athletically and as upstanding young men. The members of White's team, played by Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Rafael Martinez, Sergio Avelar, Ramino Rodriguez and Hector Duran, are top notch as well.

The film shows the hardships that the boys and their families faced as Latino migrant workers during this time period. The town and a majority of its families are plagued with a seemingly endless generational cycle of poverty, and their work is comprised of grueling, long hours with minimal pay. The writing by Christopher Cleveland and direction by Niki Caro adequately display this struggle.

While the writing is solid, the film takes a little while to get going. The first 30 minutes of the movie leading up to White forming the cross-country team dragged on for me, however the information presented at the beginning is necessary build-up to the main plot, which is more than worth the wait. Overall, the direction by Caro is superb, and I am looking forward to seeing her future directorial work.

The cinematography in the film is commendable. Most of the locations where the competitions take place include rolling hills and lush countryside in addition to a few urban areas. The enormous hills at the last location the team competes at are stunning to view from a distance, and the camerawork in the movie captures its beauty effectively.

While “McFarland, USA” does not bring any original ideas to the table, the execution and effectiveness of the film is a pleasant surprise. Fans of Costner and sports movies alike will not be disappointed.