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Disney+ Review: Safety

December 11, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Disney’s latest sports drama Safety, which premieres on Disney+ today, is based on the true story of Clemson University football safety Ray McElrathbey, who put his promising athletic career on the line to care for his little brother Fahmarr and keep him out of foster care.

At the start of the film, Ray (played by Jay Reeves) is arriving at Clemson in South Carolina. He struggles to adjust to the gruelling early morning practises, on top of a demanding class schedule, but welcomes the opportunities provided to him by university. For the first part of Safety, the film has the feel of a typical sports movie, with its training montages and scenes on the field at dawn.

But things get more complicated when Ray is called back to Atlanta, where he finds out his mother Tonya (Amanda Warren) has relapsed and been put in a mandatory rehab program for thirty days, leaving her unable to care for the 11-year-old Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson). With no other legal guardian, Fahmarr is about to be put in foster care, until Ray intervenes and agrees to look after him until their mother gets out of rehab.

The problem is that Ray isn’t allowed to have a kid on campus, so has to keep Fahmarr hidden in his dorm, a stressful secret that causes his game and grades to suffer. But with the help of his very amicable roommate Daniel (Hunter Sansone) and other teammates, Ray steps into his new role as caregiver, and is eventually aided by the entire Clemson community. But some problems arise with the NCAA, which threaten Ray’s ability to care for his brother and continue playing on the team.

Directed by Reginald Hudlin, who also made the 2017 Thurgood Marshall biopic Marshall, Safety has many of the predictable beats of a sports movie, but it’s more of a family drama. The true story’s sharp edges have been softened but not dulled completely by Disney, with the film still managing to hint at some deeper themes about the effects of addiction on a family, and how kids, particularly young Black boys, are often failed by the foster care system.

While Safety is very much a feel good movie, and one that is kept suitable for family audiences, Hudlin also allows for some moments of genuine emotion, including a heartbreaking scene between Ray and his mother. The film also does a decent job of showing the sense of shame that Ray feels around having drug addiction in his family, as he tries desperately to keep his personal life hidden from love interest Kaycee (Corinne Foxx), a school sports reporter.

The film features a decent screenplay by Nick Santora, who adapts this inspiring and bittersweet true story for the screen in a way that also allows it to follow the comforting template laid out by other Disney sports dramas. With solid performances from Reeves and Mixson as the two brothers, as well as a good supporting cast that includes James Badge Dale as the obligatory tough coach with a good heart, Safety is an enjoyable film that does a fine job of tugging at the heartstrings. It’s a very warm film with a touching emotional core.

Safety is now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.

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