Cinelinx goes the distance with Kevin Costner's McFarland USA on Blu-ray!
A white coach (Kevin Costner) moves to the town of McFarland, California to teach at a predominantly Latino high school. An outsider at first, the coach finds himself connecting with the athletes and their families when he forms a cross-country team. Based on a true story. Also stars Maria Bello and Morgan Saylor.
Directed by Niki Caro.
There are some films that you think you have all figured out by the trailer. You get the plot twists, the major emotional blowups, and the resolution in two and a half minutes, leaving the actual film to be a disappointing afterthought. After watching the trailer before its release, I assumed McFarland USA would be yet another one of those films, that offered nothing more than what I saw in a preview. But I was wrong.
At first glance, McFarland USA seems like yet another entry in Hollywood’s long string of true-life, high school sports stories. When the Game Stands Tall, Million Dollar Arm, Invincible, Glory Road, We Are Marshall, Coach Carter, and Facing the Giants are all recent entries in this genre, and while many of these films are quite good, most never quite distinguished themselves from one another, and only a few impressed audiences.
McFarland USA is also a “culture clash” film, which usually involves a white protagonist who learns to live with and understand a particular minority (in this case, a white coach leads Latino athletes of Mexican heritage). Such films have a mixed record; with most too mired in cliches and political correctness to be impactful and entertaining. They are more concerned with portraying the characters in a positive light, rather than an honest one.
McFarland USA, however, is a pleasant surprise. It never gets mired in lazy storytelling or tired cliches. It elevates above standard cinema fare, presenting a touching, well-acted tale that is worth discovering.
McFarland USA didn’t exactly light up the box office: it grossed just under $45 million when released earlier this year. That is not, however, an indicator of the quality of the film, What could have been another generic underdog sports film is a very smart, entertaining film. What could have been another boring, pandering lesson on race relations is actually an earnest film that pulls no overly-dramatic punches. By the end of the film, however, when you see what the young athletes accomplish, and learn what they did with the rest of their lives, you are hit with the full emotional impact of a truly human story.
Like the sport of cross-country featured so prominently in the story, McFarland USA builds a slow, deliberate pace at first, picking up speed when necessary, and finally hitting its stride for the final sprint at the finish. Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) could have gone heavy on the melodrama, but instead, allows Kevin Costner’s outstanding performance as Coach Jim White to lead the film. Costner’s recent films may not have been box-office smashes, but he always delivers in his roles. He may not “become” the character he is trying to portray; you still feel like you are watching Kevin Costner as a cross-country coach. However, he is still so personable, and his performance so engaging, he makes it work.
McFarland USA is a refreshing take on the underdog sports story, and its portrayal of Mexican immigrants that worked the fields of California is both honest and relevant given the debate raging in our nation over immigration. It is, however, so much more than that. At its heart is a very human story, and on that alone, McFarland USA excels.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
McFarland USA is beautifully shot, although the run-down neighborhoods that make up much of the McFarland backdrop aren’t very enticing. However, there are also scenes showcasing the beauty of California’s rural areas, which are fantastic, and presented in a warm golden brown that looks superb in high definition. Audio is a 5.1 DTS HDMA mix, which is lively and fairly active throughout the channels.
The blu-ray sports a few solid extras, that provide a nice look behind the scenes and into the true-life characters portrayed in the film. They include:
“McFarland Recollections” featurette. Kevin Costner meets the real Jim White and the members of the real-life track team. It’s fantastic to see the real-life inspiration for these characters, and it’s even better to see that the kids grew up to be good men. The featurette runs about eight and a half minutes.
“Juntos” Music Video. Tejano music star Juanes performs the theme song from the film.
“Inspiring McFarland” featurette. This two minute featurette is a promotional piece focusing on the resilience of the kids on the team.
Deleted/Extended Scenes. Six deleted and extended scenes are included: “Jim and Jenks Go Toe-To-Toe,” “Un-Quit,” “Coach Motivates Danny and Victor,” “Jose is On His Own,” “Dale Takes In Jose,” and “Thomas Watches His Father Leave.” The deleted scenes are actually very good, delving more into the lives of the kids and the struggles they endured.
Digital Copy. A digital version of the film, compatible with Disney Movies Anywhere, iTunes, and Ultraviolet is included.
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Running Time: 129 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish
Special Features: “McFarland Recollections” featurette; “Juntos” music video; “Inspiring McFarland” featurette; Six deleted and extended scenes, Digital copy
Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment