“McFarland, USA” is a classic “only-in-America tale” based on a true story. A football coach with prior anger management issues has taken the only job open to him, in a California Central Valley farming town where most of the students work in the fields in the early hours before class. The coach uncovers an opportunity to salvage his life and greatly enrich the lives of his students. Then he wholeheartedly embarks on a (literally) uphill battle to make this endeavor work.
Director Niki Caro has managed to reveal an incredible amount of detail from the actual history of the characters, yet keeps the narrative moving smoothly. She allows the large cast of individuals to grow on us to the point where we feel that they are family by the end of the film. The director is also sensitive to the force that drives the sport ‚Äì she allows the exhilaration of running to underscore the movement of the story.
Casting Director Sheila Jaffe has done impressive work with the complex job of casting a team of high school runners of Mexican heritage. Most of the actors who play these roles had very little if any on-screen experience prior to this film. However, Ms. Jaffe has extensive experience of her own at her job — she instinctively knows in whom she can place her trust. As a result, this team of actors has us suspending belief to imagine that they are the real characters. Actors Ramiro Rodriguez, Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Rafael Martinez, Hector Duran and Sergio Avelar are all to be commended for their work. Not to mention … Kevin Costner is always in his element as a conflicted sports hero. Morgan Saylor (“Homeland”) does a wonderful job as the coach’s daughter.
Cinematographers Adam Arkapaw (most recently directed eight episodes of “True Detective”) and Terry Stacey (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”), with the work of excellent location scouts, capture the grandeur of the territory covered by the long-distance runners. They also find a beauty that is rarely associated with the expanse of agricultural fields in the Central Valley.
Production Designer Richard Hoover manages to recreate in great detail the environment of 1987, so that each scene reflects the reality of that era. Composer Antonio Pinto adds great period music to set the tone. The skill of editor David Coulson also has contributed to the forward movement of the film and the excitement of the races.
“McFarland, USA” is a great family film — and everyone in this country should see it. It depicts a lifestyle that very few of us have known, in all its hardship and courage. Take your kids … or your neighbors’ kids, the kids you teach, the kids you babysit, or your friends. It will be time well spent. Don’t leave early — the end is inspiring.
Rated PG. 129 minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at email@example.com.