One of the most underappreciated aspects of sports films is that they humanize the personalities that overcome the tallest of odds, make gravity-defying moves, and hit the biggest shots on the brightest stages.
When viewers tune in to games, they see athletes in their element, or what some of them call their “sanctuary”, a place where they can escape the world and just be themselves. A lot of famous athletes have their lives documented or published in books to show the world their journey, from the hardships of their everyday lives, to the people they’ve become today. They start out just like everyone else; ambitious and naive about the harsh cruel world. Eventually, they get to where they are thanks to the determination and grit to overcome the obstacles ahead of them.
This month, The LaSallian focuses on four films that celebrate the human spirit. These films show the “darker side of sports”, portraying realities that bring these stories closer to home.
Any Given Sunday
Any Given Sunday focuses on the Miami Sharks, a fictional American Football team that deals with a myriad of issues that are prevalent in any sports team. The clashes between coaching and management, coupled with the squabbles between the players for the limelight, makes for a realistic sports drama that goes behind the scenes of the athletes fans look up to.
With an all-star cast made up of Al Pacino, who plays the fiery coach Tony D’Amato, Dennis Quaid and Jamie Foxx, who play quarterbacks Jack Rooney and Willie Beamen, respectively, and last but not the least, Cameron Diaz, who stars as neophyte team owner Christina Pagniacci, the film has the right blend of personalities to make the movie a favorite among sports fans.
Million Dollar Arm
Over the past decade, professional sports teams have been scouring the globe for talent. This theme was the center of the 2014 film Million Dollar Arm. Inspired by a true story, the movie focuses on the journey of baseball pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who after winning a contest sponsored by sports agent J.B. Bernstein (played by Jon Hamm), are given a shot to train under the top pitching coaches in the United States. After encountering the early struggles that come with adjusting to a new country and culture, Singh and Patel eventually find their groove and success in the diamond.
Although the story shows their development as pitching prospects, Million Dollar Arm also shows the business side of baseball and explores the impact that international athletes have on their families and the countries they represent. Hamm’s role as Bernstein also shows the risks that come with bringing in unproven yet talented prospects that, in real life, may or may not pan out.
Many people have been told, “You can’t go down this path that you want anymore”, or the infamous line, “You’re not good enough”. These lines have hindered many aspiring athletes, but for some like Michael Jordan, it only pushed them harder to get better. These kinds of situations reflect Hopper Gibson from the baseball drama, The Phenom.
A son of an abusive father who also coached him in baseball, Gibson’s career as a major league pitcher goes south when he displays erratic behavior while pitching on national television during a game. After the incident, he is asked to see a sports psychologist to confront his traumatic past in order to move forward.
Bleed For This
Like Gibson, famous athletes have been told to stop chasing their dreams due to personal matters. In Bleed For This, Miles Teller portrays Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, a professional boxer who suffered a neck injury during his career.
Despite his doctor’s recommendation to turn away from the world of boxing, as he will probably never get to walk again, Pazienza defies the odds after 13 months of recovery and goes out winning his first battle post-hiatus against super middleweight title holder Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran. After a grueling 12-round match, Pazienza takes a come-from-behind victory.
These movies can be a beacon for people facing their demons, who need to overcome them. The films show their viewers that if one wants something in life, then nothing or no one should hold them back from chasing their dreams. People also take in that even the best of the best have personal matters behind the scenes. Sports movies in geneal have the unique ability to transport audiences to an athlete’s perspective and see their journey unfold from difficult times.