Sports movies on the whole live and die by their actual sports sequences, so a movie about a fighter, depending on the fighting and American Underdog is no different, being about American Football, the on field sequences need to be up to scratch, however this one is so much more.
The inspirational true story of Kurt Warner, who overcomes years of challenges and setbacks to become a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback. Just when his dreams seem all but out of reach, it’s only with the support of his wife, Brenda, and the encouragement of his family, coaches and teammates that Warner perseveres and finds the strength to show the world the champion that he already is.
For anyone outside of the US or not a American Football fan, the story of Kurt Warner is going to be a bit of “who?” situation. Fortunately the films engaging leads in the shape of Zachary Levi (Shazam, Tangled) and Anna Paquin (The Piano, X-Men) and Dennis Quaid (Innerspace, The Day After Tomorrow) make it work for the uninitiated.
Levi making his performance of Warner so grounded and real, makes American Underdog just that. A underdog movie that you simply want to root for. Despite the fact that some of the films contrivances look unbelievable or at the very least exaggerated, this true story keeps to the facts for the most part adding ten levels of heart. but once again it’s Anna Paquin who gives her performance of Warner’s long suffering wife Brenda that is simply outstanding. Paquin gives a outstanding 110% to her role, much like everything else she’s ever been in that is the films true heartbeat.Hayden Zaller as Brendas son who copes with disabilities is truly beautiful too without ever hammering it home, Zaller really warms the heart every time he’s on screen. Then there is Dennis Quaid, one of this generations most solid actors who when he first arrives on screen is given P.O.D.s “Boom” as an entrance, you know that the proceedings are about to pick up, and they do as well.
The football sequences are well played out and inter-cut with some of the actual footage works surprisingly well and almost gives it a documentary feel. However they remain exciting without ever drifting into bone-crunchingly over the top action and leave you wanting more even if you aren’t well versed in the rules or gameplay. Again they skip the clock counting down for the final crunch point trope which is usually levered into these types of movie, maybe because it’s based in fact, but it seems to elevate the sequences.
There’s some stunning cinematography from Kristopher Kimlin who also worked with Quaid on I Can Only Imagine. Despite the re-use of the sweeping up to the front line for Levi to merge at the back with the triumphant score thundering in the background, it’s some stunning stuff, the set pieces race along at the speed of a running back and the scenery is at times breathtaking.
Directors the Erwin Brothers clearly have created American Underdog as a passion project and have worked predominately making faith based movies such as I can Only Imagine once again focus on some of the faith based elements of Warner’s story without ever making it overbearing.
American Underdog is most likely going to work a lot better with the American audiences it was intended for, is still a solid sports movie. It’s no Any Given Sunday, but it is a very well put together football movie with heaps of heart.
American Underdog is available on Digital from May 16th