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Hammerle On … The Oscars revisited; 'McFarland, USA'

March 11, 2015

bob hammerle movie reviewsThe Oscars revisited

Forgive me, but I can’t leave the Oscar telecast alone. First and foremost, the Oscars continue to lose an attachment with the general public by spending time on awards significant to the industry but meaningless to everyone else.

Like it or not, no one really cares who won the Oscars for “Best Makeup and Hair Styling,” “Best Sound Mixing” or “Best Production Design,” nor does anyone want to listen to acceptance speeches where everyone proceeds to thank their spouse and children. Clearly, if these awards were simply deferred to the pre-telecast ceremony done off-screen, closer attention could be paid to the major awards where viewers are not forced to stay awake past midnight.

Furthermore, the Oscars made an incredible mistake years ago by excluding the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award during the telecast itself. For years, we had the pleasure of watching aging performers like Cary Grant receive overdue Oscar recognition, and this year we were denied the benefit of listening to Harry Belafonte live and on stage.

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Yet as a criminal defense lawyer, I was appalled watching the Oscar ceremony when the widow of Chris Kyle, the focus of “American Sniper,” appeared on the red carpet. While this was happening, a veteran was on trial in Texas for killing her husband, and this shameless promotion would have served to destroy any hope that veteran had of receiving a fair trial.

As I sat in front of the TV shaking my head, I was also reminded of the fact that some of the jurors in that trial admitted seeing Clint Eastwood’s film. Given that the movie has resonated around the country with Kyle being painted as an American hero, how you can tell me that the jury set aside this emotional attachment and reached a fair verdict?

McFarland, USA

“McFarland, USA,” a small film with a big heart, will repeatedly leave you with watery eyes as you embrace a loveable group of forgotten high school students. Based on an historical event that took place in McFarland, California, in 1987, the film functions as a cinematic magnet where you form a bond with all of the individuals that you see on the screen.

The film revolves around a high school teacher/football coach who was dismissed from his job in Idaho after losing his cool with several players. Kevin Costner, rediscovering acting skills seldom displayed since the memorable “Dances with Wolves” (1990), plays our teacher with the ironic name of Jim White. Arriving in McFarland, a community that he immediately discovers to be his version of Last Chance Gulch, he feels like a fish out of water. The community is entirely Hispanic, and he worries that he has exposed his wife and two daughters to an environment leading to isolation and destruction.

Additionally, the high school kids don’t relate to Costner’s White any more than he does to them. Attending a high school bordering a state prison, they have little reason to trust their new coach ridiculed with the nickname “white.” That isn’t too hard to understand given that most are forced to pick vegetables in various fields before and after each school day to help their families.

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As White starts to lose all hope, he discovers that many of the boys have an instinct to run long distances based upon the demands of their daily lives. As a result, he convinces seven of them to initiate a cross-country team to simply see if they can compete against other high schools located in prosperous communities.

Obviously, the film focuses on qualifying and participating in a state cross-country competition, and you already expect a colossally enjoyable ending. Regardless, the angst felt by the boys and their entire community finds a way to leave you wishing that you could vocally cheer for them in the theater.

While Maria Bello gives a meaningful performance in a small role as White’s caring wife, this movie centers on our seven cross-country runners. These economically poor kids have to not only conquer their own doubts, but also crack through a barrier which includes convincing their families that trusting a white coach has significance.

It is ironic that this film was released at the same time that Republicans in Washington are demanding that our president abandon his efforts to help immigrants who are living in this country peacefully. To listen to President Barack Obama’s opponents, they are apparently quite content to let 12 million Hispanic immigrants make a meager living picking vegetables in the fields so that it won’t cost them much to put it on their dining room table. The sad fact is that most of these families are both God-fearing and hard working, and we have to do something immediately to help them if we claim to be living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

But don’t get me wrong, “McFarland, USA” is not a political film. It is an inspiring human interest story centering on poor families doing all that they can so that their children can reach an economic level in the USA that they were unable to attain.

I should also remind you to pay attention to the credits at the end of the film as it adds to the film’s splendor. You will see what all of these kids are doing today as they appear as adults in person on the screen. You will be wishing you had some available Kleenex as you discover that most of them went on to become the first members of their families to graduate from college.•

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Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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