...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Organized sports are touted as teaching kids how to be “team players,” to think of having each other’s backs and sacrificing for the good of others, rather than focusing only on themselves. Why is it, then, that so many professional athletes will so readily abandon loyalty, humility, and morality in the face of a multi-million dollar contract or the chance to achieve “immortal” sports fame?
In an uber-individualistic society like the contemporary United States, the question may be rhetorical. Athletes and celebrities aren’t the only ones leading selfish lives or running from their pasts. In an uplifting film for the whole family, Game Time: Tackling the Past avoids fouls and loads the scoreboard with winning themes, including a counter-cultural sack of the world’s vision of success. But perhaps the greatest play of the movie is a redefinition of winning as living for others, on and off the field.
Few “normal” people get to experience the height of what modern culture deems success. For most of us, becoming a movie actor, a world-famous musician, an Olympian, or a football star is just a dream. Not so for Jake Walker. He has the skills, talent, and determination to lasso the moon and hold on tight. What are dreams made of? Turf, paint, and bright lights—at least for Jake, who sprints from high school football standout to record-setting NFL star.
Yet Jake’s success didn’t come without sacrifice and the cost was more than he ever intended. He has wealth and fame, but no family or friends to share the plenty with him. That is, no family that he talks to after a falling-out with his father, who doubled as his high school football coach, and younger brother, a former player who stayed with their father as coaching assistant.
When Jake’s dad has a heart attack, Jake can no longer refuse to return home. He reluctantly goes to his father’s bedside, facing his family with unhealed wounds that are like a reflection of the ones he gouged in them. With his father’s high school football team in need of another coach and his family in need of their lost son and brother, Jake soon finds out that he’ll have to confront more than painful memories in his old hometown.
An uncertain future, a meaningless existence, and a lifelong selfishness crouch with a regretful past on the opposing line—only love, sacrifice, and forgiveness will be enough to push Jake through to victory.
With the recently launched Family Movie Night funded by Walmart and Proctor & Gamble, these companies are making an effort to bring back wholesome, uplifting, and fun entertainment appropriate for all ages—something that is extremely rare to find on the TV of today. The results of this experiment have been mixed, with one of the first and strongest Walmart/P&G productions, Change of Plans, followed by other films that are inconsistent in their production quality and values.
While Game Time comes in at a happy medium in terms of production level, being neither the best nor the worst of these films, the movie is a decisive touchdown for meaningful and redemptive content. In Jake’s tenuous relationship with his family, the story is able to memorably explore the themes of familial love, loyalty, and forgiveness. Jake’s married brother and their parents also stand as rare examples of intact, healthy marriages that feature couples who support and cherish each other.
There are no children born out of wedlock in this movie, and even the one single mother was the victim of a nasty divorce that was no fault of her own. Jake himself, despite his selfish style of living, has enough foresight and wisdom to realize that his highly stressful, all-consuming career wouldn’t make for a happy marriage (leading him to avoid any sort of serious relationship).
The influence that this film’s moral, well-grounded parents have on their kids is both realistic and inspiring. For better and for worse, at times, Jake’s father has clearly been the most powerful figure in his life. Jake’s dad made mistakes that were in part to blame for driving his son away, but he ultimately apologizes for his errors and is otherwise the compass that points Jake in the right direction, whether Jake follows it or not. In addition, Jake’s mother is a moving example of the difference a loving, supportive, and honest mother can make in even her grown child’s life.
Another topic that Game Time is unafraid to tackle is celebrity worship. By giving viewers an inside look at the real thoughts and character of a football star, as well as the backstory that went into making him a national icon, the aura is stripped away and the idea of fame demystified. Jake, viewers see, is just an ordinary guy who has been blessed with athletic talent and a lucrative career, but, like many in his situation, lacks the happiness that many supposedly less “fortunate” people have in their small-time lives.
What’s the difference between the fleeting fun of fame and fortune and the contented life of a family man and high school football coach? In a surprising answer for Hollywood, Game Time shows that a key element is choosing to live for others, rather than oneself. The film weaves this message throughout the story, tying it to the core of the central character’s journey and bringing it to a climax in an inspiring conclusion that even takes the upheld finger that usually stands for being number one (the peak of self-glorification) and gives it a new meaning, signaling the goal of doing one thing for someone else.
The cohesiveness of the story and themes is indicative of the strong writing present in Game Time. Avoiding the lack of plot and depth that plagues many sports movies, this film has enough athletic action to please football fans, but the majority of the screen time is spent on the story and characters outside of the sport. Though a bit simplistic at times, the screenplay is generally realistic and finds an emotional resonance that will move and entertain viewers.
The same can be said for the acting, which achieves what is necessary, but not much beyond that. Ryan McPartlin is well cast for the starring role of Jake and turns in the best performance of the movie. Josh Braaten as Jake’s brother also gives an authentic and likable portrayal. With chemistry and skill, these two lead actors carry the film, creating its emotional core and making up for other performances that are not quite as strong. No actor in Game Time is weak enough to ruin the film, but most members of the supporting cast are also not qualified or invested enough to make the project better because of their work.
Other production values follow suit with success in some areas and failure in others. The musical score is well-done, but occasionally applied in a heavy-handed fashion. Lighting and picture quality are excellent, yet the cinematography suffers from an unfortunate choice of shooting style. Intentionally choppy with constant movement—including unpredictable, erratic zooms and unsteady shots—this approach makes the camera impossible to forget, as it is always in competition with the actors for the viewers’ attention.
This technique may be appropriate for some films but is detrimental to a character-driven drama, particularly one with some shaky acting performances.
Still, the strength of Game Time is the appealing and uplifting story, which rises above the few flaws in production quality. Keeping the implied promise of Family Movie Night, Game Time also delivers where it most counts, ensuring that the plethora of positive values encouraged in the film are unsullied by negative content.
Given the mature themes in the film, it would be best for parents to watch with their young kids. Parents need not be concerned, however, as the only potentially problematic moment comes when Jake answers a taunt from another football player by saying that the opponent will see his “backside” in the competitive sprint they are about to do.
With no overt Christian content, Game Time falls short of a full understanding of the true purpose in life and the source of real joy. Yet, the story becomes unwittingly scriptural in its effort to highlight moral truths that are Christian, most prominently the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).
As a movie that emphasizes the lessons that pass from fathers to sons, and from men to boys in mentorship relationships, Game Time follows its own example, communicating important messages that will touch and teach young and old. In addition, Game Time sets a pattern that, if the rest of the filmmaking world were to follow, could contribute to the restoration of legitimate family movies and TV programming. Such an effort is worth supporting and, in the case of Game Time, enjoying.