There’s a reason inspirational sports movies keep getting made: They are, by heaven, inspiring. Rudy.” “Rocky.” “Brian’s Song.” And ever so many more.
Uplift is a natural — Hey! “The Natural” — element of stories where the underdog triumphs. And if a fatal disease is part of the package — looking at you, “Brian’s Song” — then, well, you’d have to be made out of tungsten not to be moved to tears by that combination.
“My All American” fits the bill so snugly it’s a miracle — Hey! “Miracle” — it hasn’t been made before now.
Written and directed by Angelo Pizzo, who knows a thing or two about these kinds of movies, having written two of the best-known, “Hoosiers” and “Rudy,” “My All American” is the true-life story of Freddie Steinmark. He was a standout star of the national championship University of Texas football team of the late 1960s until cancer cut short his gridiron career.
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This marks Pizzo’s first outing in the director’s chair (David Anspaugh did the honors in “Rudy” and “Hoosiers”), and the overall feel of “All American” is like a mainstream Hollywood movie out of the 1950s. Language is mild, kisses are chaste, and characters are wholesome, with the single exception of the long-haired, loudmouthed peacenik hippie who fills Freddie with disgust. Thus does the movie acknowledge the upheavals of the Vietnam era and the divide between Texas football and the anti-war movement.
In the role of Freddie, Finn Wittrock has classically smooth matinee-idol looks and a nice-guy manner that suits the character well. Freddie, somewhat undersized for a football player, is an eager, happy striver, and Wittrock plays him with disarming naturalness.
The core of the picture is his relationship with his coach, the renowned Darrell Royal, who sees a gutty gamer in a kid other college coaches overlooked. Aaron Eckhart brings an understated gravity to his performance in the role.
The movie is strongest after Freddie’s diagnosis, where Pizzo and his actors avoid lapsing into maudlin excess and scenes are played with dignified restraint.
And yes, there will be tears, and they are well-earned.
MY ALL AMERICAN
3 stars out of 5
Cast: Finn Wittrock, Aaron Eckhart, Sarah Bolger and Rett Terrell.
Director: Angelo Pizzo.
Running time: 1:53.
Rated: PG, for thematic elements, language and brief partial nudity.