Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews Moving Pictures Ongoing Series

Moving Pictures Vol. 25: Like a Duck on a Pond

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It’s a Quarter Quell for Logan’s Moving Pictures!!! We’re in the middle of Football season and what better way to celebrate than with – Ryan was a huge Falcon’s Fan – one of the best Football Movies; The Replacements!!!

I’ve talked before about checking my memories on Facebook and how it’s become a daily ritual. Usuall around late August/early September a lot of those status updates from my past are me complaining about or possibly praising the Atlanta Falcons. Not so much from the past few years, because really, the heartbreak became almost unbearable and I had to just stop watching every week…but, seeing the ones for 8-10 years ago, it makes me really miss how into watching football I was. A lot of that had to do with my brother, Ryan.

I’ve mentioned not being able to enjoy a lot of the geek-themed media I once devoured since my brother passed, and while I definitely wasn’t the football fanatic I once was in the few years before he died, watching games without him has been particularly painful. Sundays were our favorite day of the week for most of our lives. Hours and hours of football, sports talk, stats, highlights. We loved it as much as we loved superhero cinema and trips to the theatre.

Us with my maternal grandfather, sporting Falcons gear before we could form sentences.

We grew up watching games with my Dad, grandmother and uncles. We played fantasy football back when everything was done on paper, and if you told people you were in a league they just look at you…well, the way they used to look at you for saying you liked comic books.

My Dad would toil over stats, calculating scores week in and week out, we’d have a live draft every year, always with a “keeper.” A player you had last year that you wanted to hold onto. My Uncle Glen had drafted the legendary running back Barry Sanders one year, and I think he may have held onto him for about six years straight, inevitably regretting it when the Hall of Famer would rack up hundreds of yards and no touchdowns. See, when we started there weren’t points for yardage, just for scores. I’d like to think my Dad pioneered the points for yardage, because it’s something he instituted after years of grumbling from his brother, but he probably wasn’t the originator.

All of that to say we loved football. We loved talking about football, watching football, buying football trading cards, and yes, watching movies about football. Of course, that always lead to the discussion of what is the best football film. Rudy? Sure, my stepmother, Yael, certainly thinks so, it’s one of her favorite films. My sister Kelly might tell you it’s We Are Marshall, because, whoo-boy, does she love her some Matthew McConaughey. A few of my uncles may have said Brian’s Song, or maybe even Little Giants (don’t sleep on it, it’s good), my grandmother might have told you it’s Knute Rockne, All-American, my Dad might say it’s The Longest Yard, and in our teenage years, my brother and I would have definitely told you it was Necessary Roughness.

Maybe the highest I ever placed in all our years (decades really) of playing fantasy football.

If we were to have a serious debate about it right now, I’d say that’s my favorite football film as a whole, but there’s a huge argument to be made for the last act of Varsity Blues. Still, there’s so many good ones I’ve left out; Remember the Titans, Invincible, The Waterboy and dozens more. There are very few football films I DON’T like (coughTheBlindSidecough), so it’s a tough choice no matter what. But, in the last two decades of his life, if you asked Ryan what the best football film of all time was, well, the only answer you’d get was The Replacements.

For most of that last twenty years I’d argue with him pretty heavily that not only wasn’t it the best, but it didn’t even belong in the conversation. I’d have told you it was a hack job starring a one-note actor and a legend well past his prime. I can’t pinpoint when exactly my feelings on it changed, but I think I started coming around to it five or six years ago.

I remember one particular viewing where I was house sitting for some friends and found myself pretty engrossed in it. I don’t even know why I decided to revisit it, but I did. I sat on their couch, eating a pint of some favorite ice cream, salty chips at the ready to balance that out, and probably a giant glass of Coke Zero (because I clearly count calories), and managed to find a genuine appreciation for it. Certainly in the two years since his death it’s become one of those that I have a fondness for, because of how much he loved it.

A few months after he passed I was flipping through some channels and came across it on basic cable. It was maybe twenty minutes in, and I decided to let it ride. Just like that previous viewing, I got wrapped up in the goofy theatrics of it all, and despite knowing the outcome I found myself both crying and smiling. It almost has a perfect ending, but the muckety-mucks in charge fouled it up by adding a goofy narration from Gene Hackman detailing what happens next. I’ll never understand why people aren’t comfortable with ambiguity in their entertainment.

Of course, with football season upon us, I couldn’t help but think about Ryan and his appreciation for this film. So, what else could I do except track it down and watch it once again.

The story is a pretty simple one; players go on strike, teams hire scrubs to finish out the season, scrubs show more heart than their millionaire counterparts. And like every great sports film it’s about a people trying to overcome incalculable odds to claim victory from the jaws of certain defeat.

Turning four and not understanding the decades of heartache that we were in for with the Falcons.

There’s quarterback Shane Falco (played by Keanu Reeves), trying to show he wasn’t the college washout everyone said he was, and then there’s Coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman in one of his last great performances), trying to prove he’s knows how to win, if only everyone would listen to him. The rest of the cast is full of wacky characters played by plenty of “Hey, I know that guy” actors. Chief among them being Orlando Jones, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau (it’s incredibly weird to see him acting in his younger days), and Ryan’s favorite, Rhys Ifans.

Ifans is probably best known right now for being on a little spin-off show called Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon. But long before he was one of Westeros’ most suspicious, he was a wiry footballer who helped the Washington Sentinels win a few games. And by footballer, I mean in the global sense, not the American one. It’s a plot point recycled from so many other football movies, bringing in a soccer player to kick (Kathy Ireland does it in Necessary Roughness), but this movie is nothing but recycled plot points. Maybe that’s what makes it so great.

Ifans as Nigel Gruff was Ryan’s favorite character in the film. It’s not hard to see why, the guy seems like a lot of fun. Hard drinking, heavy smoking, loves to gamble, hangs out in seedy dives, all-around scamp…he’s exactly the kind of person my brother would have wanted to hang out with. Any time a discussion about the movie came around he’d inevitably come up, specifically the fact that he’s saved from his ultimate betrayal of the team (see, he owes money, and is expected to blow the game if possible) and how much Ryan loved that storyline.

As teens, for some reason or another, my great aunt and uncle would buy me Alabama gear and buy Ryan Auburn merch for Christmas.

Not me though. Really it just irritates me. I’m glad he doesn’t have to choose between keeping his fingers (or his life) or betraying his team, but, really, he’s become a victim of his own irresponsibility. Now, instead of finding his own way out he has to hope that his teammates save him. It’s the difference in our personalities I suppose; Ryan had a huge soft spot for people who were down and out due to their own idiocy. He had a big heart for that. I can see why, all these years later, and I do wish I had some of that heart; the ability to give people an endless amount of chances no matter how often they screwed it up…

For me, the story in The Replacements that I really just latch onto every time is that of tight end Brian Murphy, played by David Denman (Roy in The Office). Murphy is deaf, which poses a lot of issues playing football, but he makes it work. So much so that, in the final play of the game, one that will send the team to the playoffs, he asks for the ball. It’s not a truly spectacular moment, or really even a great play. Just a routine pass from a QB to a TE, one you see a few times every NFL game. Catch is made, the win is in the books, certainly cause to celebrate, and they do.

Nothing says Easter like showing your love for the Atlanta Falcons.

Here’s what gets me though, every single time I watch this movie.

Brian Murphy, a deaf tight end, makes the winning catch and when he stands up in the endzone he starts motioning to the crowd, asking them to cheer. Louder and louder. He can’t hear them, but he can feel them, he can see them. He can feel the noise. This man who’s never heard anything in his life can now feel thousands and thousands of people cheering for him. For his teammates. For the unbelievable feat, they’ve accomplished. With the undercurrent of a fine cover of Bowie’s ballad Heroes, it’s one of the best moments in any sports film, ever.

The Replacements isn’t a perfect movie, far from it, but to paraphrase an adage Gene Hackman delivers to his quarterback, it’s like a duck on a pond. Everything may look pretty standard on the surface, but underneath…underneath there’s a lot of stirring going on.

Moving Pictures will return in two weeks…

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