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Three Views: McFarland

February 20, 2015

McFarland Poster

McFarland – A Walt Disney Pictures Release

Release Date: February 20th, 2015
Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language
Running Time: 128 minutes

Niki Caro (director)

Christopher Cleveland (writer)
Bettina Gilois (writer)

Grant Thompson (screenplay)

Antonio Pinto (music)

Kevin Costner as Jim White
Ramiro Rodriguez as Danny Diaz
Carlos Pratts as Thomas Valles
Johnny Ortiz as Jose Cardenas
Rafael Martinez as David Diaz
Hector Duran as Johnny Sameniego
Sergio Avelar as Victor Puentes
Michael Aguero as Damacio Diaz
Diana Maria Riva as Señora Diaz
Omar Leyva as Señor Diaz
Maria Bello as Cheryl White
Morgan Saylor as Julie White
Elsie Fisher as Jamie White


Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) and Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) in McFarland.

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McFarland Review By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

“There ain’t nothing American Dream about this place,” depressed teenager Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) says of the dirt poor small town in California that gives McFarland its name, providing one of the most resonant lines of dialogue in this latest underdog sports movie from Disney.  Recounting the true story of how determined coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) turned a group of seven struggling high schoolers into champion-level cross country runners in 1987, this a very well acted and incredibly inspiring crowdpleaser, that is rousingly successful every step of the way.

When Jim moves to McFarland with his wife (Maria Bello) and their two daughters (Morgan Saylor and Elsie Fisher), they feel out of place in the largely Mexican small town.  But through the running group, which Thomas reluctantly joins to get out of detention, a community starts to form between them.  Their team also includes the overweight but hardworking Danny Diaz (Ramiro Rodriguez), and his two athletic brothers David (Rafael Martinez) and Damacio (Michael Aguero), who tirelessly work for their father (Omar Leyva) in the fields, as their mother (Diana Maria Riva) keeps them on track and becomes one of the team’s greatest supporters.

Director Niki Caro has assembled a very well crafted studio picture, that is both beautifully shot and impeccably acted.  Kevin Costner does rock solid work as the tough coach who learns to empathize with and understand his students, and the young cast of relative newcomers are also excellent.  This is an inspirational story that reaches an appropriately rousing and triumphant conclusion, but there is also a grit to McFarland that keeps the film grounded, touching on issues of poverty and the often repetitious nature of working towards a better life.  There is genuine heartbreak here, and that’s what really helps make this sports film succeed.

It’s a huge compliment to say that McFarland harkens back to the classics of the sports genre, the sort of feel good drama that is becoming increasingly rare in this day and age.  Yes, the film follows a tried and true formula, but it does so incredibly well, and even if we can predict where the screenplay might end up or already know the outcome of the true story, the film earns every single one of its emotional beats.  We really come to care about these characters, and a great deal of suspense is allowed to build up during the running scenes, showing their struggle to push themselves further and further every time.

These are kids who get up at the crack of dawn to work in the fields, before going to school and training, and it’s this determination that makes the story continue to resonate.  With a distinctly Mexican flavour that is both respectful and celebratory of the culture, McFarland is a rousing celebration of hard work and perseverance against all odds, that soars to inspirational heights.

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McFarland Review by Erin Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Based on the true story of the McFarland cross-country running team, McFarland stars Kevin Costner as Coach White, who after an altercation coaching the football team at his previous school, is transferred to the small town of McFarland, where he is placed as the local high school’s track and field instructor.

At first White has trouble adjusting to the small California town, where most of the residents are of Mexican descent, and himself, his wife (Maria Bello), and two daughters stick out like sore thumbs.  But as he gets to know his new neighbours and the teens he coaches, he and his family start to realize that the people who live in McFarland are exactly the kind you would want to have as neighbours and friends.  After noticing incredible running talent in a group of the kids, White puts together a cross country team of seven boys and together they work towards trying to qualify for the first ever State Championship in 1987.

The whole cast does a great job, and the young performers who play the McFarland cross country team are all incredibly nuanced in their portrayals, in particular Carlos Pratts who plays lead runner Thomas Valles.  The film works especially well because of this, and while it is a typical sports film, McFarland delivers exactly what you want.  Plus the fact that it is based on a true story, and the experiences and lives of the people of McFarland still ring true today, raises it up an extra notch.  It is a film about poverty, finding your place, and trying hard to succeed even against all odds.  Well filmed and paced, McFarland is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, and deservedly so.

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McFarland Review By Maureen Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Disney’s feel good, inspirational movie McFarland is based on true events in 1987, when teacher and coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) reluctantly finds himself working at the mainly hispanic McFarland, California high school, and against all odds ends up creating a state championship level cross country running team.

At first, Jim and his wife Cheryl (Maria Bello) and their two daughters, fifteen year old Julie (Morgan Saylor) and ten year old Jamie (Elsie Fisher), are miserable in McFarland.  They experience a cultural clash and language barriers.  Jim finds his students more focused on heading off to their crop picking jobs than participating in class.  It’s when he notices these kids run everywhere and are really fast, that he approaches principal Camillo (Valente Rodriguez) about setting up a cross country running team.

The first student he notices is Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts), who is given the choice of detention or the team.  Next are the Diaz brothers, overweight Danny (Ramero Rodriguez), David (Rafeal Martinez) and Damacio (Michael Aguero).  So long as they can convince their no-nonsense but bighearted mother Señora Diaz (Diana Maria Riva) that this won’t interfere with their crop picking work with their father (Omar Leyva).

There are many nicely acted scenes as Jim White gets to know the team members and starts to understand the reality of the poverty these kids experience.  By the time they are high school age, it’s expected they will pick crops before and after school to help support their families.  Watching these boys gel together as a team is truly inspirational.  The cinematography in McFarland is excellent.  The poverty in the area is believably portrayed, and the beauty of the rolling hills where they train is nicely shot.  The race scenes are also nicely filmed, and anyone who appreciates running will enjoy these sequences.

What works in McFarland is the authenticity of the performances from Kevin Costner and all the young actors playing the runners.  Throughout the film, you find yourself rooting for these guys.  Their transformation to state champions is heartwarming.  Also heartwarming are the ways Jim White and his family are accepted into the community by their hispanic neighbours.

Anyone who enjoys an inspirational, believe in yourself and those around you story, will appreciate McFarland.  Those who are into running will especially enjoy this one.  Suitable for older kids and adults, this is a wonderful family movie that can’t help but inspire.  Stay through the end credits to see footage of the original 1987 McFarland runners, with updates as to what they’re doing with their lives 27 years later.

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Consensus: With excellent performances from Kevin Costner and the entire ensemble cast, McFarland is a beautifully filmed and very well crafted sports movie, that is rousingly successful as an inspirational crowdpleaser. ★★★½ (out of 4)

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