If you’re looking for a feel good sports film or in the mood for some faith inspiration, then Woodlawn will tick all the boxes for you. It’s not going to break the mold or do anything exceptional, but it’s executed well enough to stand up against other films in the genre.
Woodlawn follows the true events from Woodlawn High School during the days of racial segregation in the U.S. (which some might argue is still going on today, but I digress) and their challenges to rise above it. Coach Geralds (Nic Bishop), has a lot of problems on his hand. The school is one of the few trying to integrate black and white students in a state known for its racial tension, and their school football team is not doing so well.
After minister Hank Erwin (Sean Astin) approaches him asking to speak to the team, the team goes on to not only be a symbol of racial unity and impacting the lives of everyone in the school, but also uncovers some star talent in Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille), who otherwise would never have been discovered due to prejudiced selection. It’s a fairly predictable and upbeat story that plays out as you might expect from this point on. Throw in some love interests, protagonists who are against the racial make-up of the team and a rival team and you have the storyline for many other movies in the world.
But while the story is quite derivative, it is also well executed, particularly for a faith based movie where they typically work with much lower budgets. While the action in the actual football scenes is not as exciting or tension filled as you would typically see in sports films of this ilk, the off-field drama is well portrayed and acted out by its cast. Of surprise is some of the bigger stars that are part of this, which include Jon Voight and Sherri Shepherd. It’s a surprisingly talented cast for a faith based film and pays off its solid performances. Don’t expect any Oscar winning stuff here, but it’s a safe bet to at least not disappoint you.
In fact, safe is pretty much a good word to describe the majority of the film. Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin do a solid job in moving the story along and giving its characters enough time to grow. They’re not out to break the mold here, but simply just to execute it and they do it well, at least for the most part. While racial tension is the main underlying issue at the start of the movie, it starts to take a backseat to the football as the movie goes on, which is actually quite disappointing. The film also doesn’t tie up some of its loose ends, leaving some of the minor character arcs unresolved. You’re never made to really care about these minor character too much, so its not obvious, but noticeable when you think about it.
The film is at its best when you feel the tension of the characters and how their different cultures and upbringing affect them. That it focuses so little on this is disappointing. Being a faith based movie however, the big purpose of the script is to focus on elements of faith rather than dwell heavily into these topics, so it’s an understandable decision on the part of the filmmakers.
The pacing of the film allows it to never get bogged down and ensure things are always moving. The only jarring criticism is that while the story covers a period of around two years, it moves very quickly towards the end. The ending also lacked considerable tension as it starts to play out to familiar territory.
One thing which stood out for me was the soundtrack. Yes, the typical mix of contemporary Christian music is present in the film, but it takes more of a backseat to a reasonably strong orchestral score. It’s not profound, but great to see a film such as this put the effort to build the mood through its score rather than rely on an up building song in the background.
Woodlawn is not going to be the most memorable viewing experience, but still offers reasonable entertainment for the whole family while giving a wholesome message as well. If you love sports movies, particularly football or even faith based films, you should enjoy this one.
Woodlawn is out now on DVD.
Last Updated: November 18, 2016