In a perfect world, there would
be a tribunal of elders to judge those artists desirous of single-name status.
Prince? A worthy candidate. Madonna? A fine addition to the club. McG? Well,
wait just a minute. Who is McG, and what has he done? He directed the Charlie’s
Angels movies? That’s it?
No, not exactly. Three years
after unleashing Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, which one critic charitably dismissed as “the death of
McG (the Artist Formerly Known as Joseph McGinty Nichol) has returned with his
most serious work to date, We Are Marshall.
And how serious it is! Here, he takes the real-life
story of a West Virginia college town rocked by the sudden, tragic loss of its
football team in a plane crash and spins it into an allegory for post-9/11
America. The allegory itself isn’t much of a stretch – kudos to McG! – but the
storytelling is shamelessly manipulative, weepy through three quarters until
the fourth-quarter uplift of the Big Game.
McG’s approach is borrowed from
the emotional playbook that has produced many tales of inspiring athleticism,
and if he’s learned some small degree of subtlety, it’s out of necessity. (A
flashy, MTV-style homage to the victims of a 1970 disaster simply wouldn’t do.)
There are fine performances, fortunately, from reliable veterans like David
Strathairn, on hand as the college president who initially wants to erase
football from Marshall’s repertoire, and TV stars like Matthew Fox, of Lost, and Ian McShane, who as Deadwood’s
Al Swearengen did more to popularize the word
“cocksucker” than anyone since… well, just anyone.
The key performance, of course,
is Matthew McConaughey’s as Jack Lengyel, the fast-talking, relentlessly upbeat
coach who is determined to resuscitate the football program with his positive
energy and motivational soliloquies. It is a role perfectly suited to People’s
Sexiest Man Alive, whose eyes burn with conviction on cue. But the movie lays
it on a bit thick. It takes a story rich with potential and drapes it in a
familiar litany of clichés that undercut its dramatic power. Flawed as it is,
it’s a step in the right direction for McG, but he has a long way to go before
earning that silly name.