FILM SYNOPSIS: Joe Conahey (Drew Waters, Friday Night Lights), is a small-town high school basketball coach whose Christian faith is tested by an unsuccessful season and the intense pressure that results. The family’s two star sons – the older, diligently hardworking brother Matt (Chad Halbrook, Brotherhood) and the younger, naturally-gifted Josh (Tom Maden, According To Jim) – are separated when Josh selfishly transfers to a powerhouse school hundreds of miles away. His previous team’s top player, Josh finds difficulty adjusting to the big-city program, tempted as he is by girls, alcohol and stardom – and is subsequently expelled. Only through the power of prayer and forgiveness can the troubled “Prodigal Son” make his way back into the arms of his loving father and find redemption for his family and his team.
PREVIEW REVIEW: Due to its effort to incorporate the Gospel within the storyline, I find it hard to say what I’m going to say. But the fact is, it’s a mediocre production, with lackluster performances and a script more dedicated to its message than its story. As I took my notes, I wanted to defend it, but by film’s end, I honestly couldn’t praise it.
Later that day, I viewed another sports film, A Mile in His Shoes, which did move and involve me. I began to compare the two productions, examining why one worked and the other didn’t.
First off, no matter how much you want to make a clean, “Christian” movie, you still have to follow the rules of filmmaking. I disagree with the pronouncement: “Got a message? Send it through Western Union.” But invariably a message in a movie is more impacting with a dose of subtlety. It’s important to get your audience involved with the story and the characters, not just geared up for a sermon. If you like the film’s people, and begin to relate to their struggles, you’re more open to the solution.
Second: movies about small town high school basketball tend to be as alike as, well, small town high school football movies. The struggle of sports movies tends to overwhelm marginal filmmakers and they fall into the trap of coping forerunners in the genre, using elements that have been used to death. The setup, the angst, and the last second slo-mo shot of the thrown sphere (basketball, baseball, football, tidily wink) hitting its mark have become clichéd and often comical rather than emotional.
The argument: “Well, you have a younger audience who haven’t seen all those other films.” True, but the more affecting sports films got you to feel for the characters so that when that last second score happens, you experience their satisfaction. Again, it comes down to caring about the characters.
Third: budget and casting. If you have enough money, you can give the film an impressive look, especially a sport film where you need to fill the screen with activity and people. In a sports film, you need more than the feeling of lots of people attending the event, you actually need the people. A real crowd gives dimension. And if you have enough money, and a good casing director, you can get the right cast. They don’t have to be great thespians, but they do need charisma and the ability to relate inner feelings.
There are exceptions to this rule as the makers of Facing the Giants discovered. But those movies are rare indeed.
All these elements are lacking in Breaking the Press. Still, Breaking the Press isn’t a bad film. It’s a clean film. It’s a film dedicated to relaying the need for a relationship with Jesus Christ. And for those who just don’t have enough basketball in their lives, it’s got its share of running and dunking. (That’s the guilt in me for not liking a film made by and for Christians.)
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment releases Breaking the Press on DVD September 20th. Rated PG, I found nothing objectionable in the content.