The biggest shock in this film comes at the very end. It is not a spoiler to say that there’s the usual “here’s what happened to the characters” round-up. The shocker is the reminder that the murderers and drug dealers who left the detention facility and continued to play football did so not in the pros or in college, but in high school.
We are greeted with statistics. There are 120,000 kids in the juvenile detention system. Seventy-five percent of them end up in prison. Once in a while, someone asks if there is something we can do to give them a choice.
In a hard-core facility, correctional officer Sean Porter (the Rock) decides the answer to that question might be football. Sports teach the importance of being punctual, accepting authority, accepting criticism, being part of a team. Sports can give a kid self-respect and pride and what it feels like to earn something. “Teenage boys would kill to play football,” Porter urges. “That’s what everybody’s afraid of,” says his boss. But he agrees to let them try.
Sports can teach them other things, too. The first time Porter has them call off the letters to spell out the name of the team, it turns out that no one there knows how to spell M-U-S-T-A-N-G-S.
It’s about as subtle as a tackle by a 300-pound tight end, but is is a pleasantly heartwarming journey. Sean and Assistant Coach Malcolm More (quietly effective rapper Xzibit) quote the Bible at the head of a Christian school to get him to let their team play his students. Kids learn to believe in themselves. And the adults in their lives learn to believe in them, too. Plus, they get to hurtle themselves at each other and try to keep the other guys from getting the ball.
Parents should know that this movie has some very strong violence, including gang violence and sports violence. Characters are wounded and killed. A person in authority hits a kid in the juvenile facility. The characters in this movie have been found guilty of a variety of illegal acts involving drugs, gangs, and other crimes. There are references to domestic abuse and characters use strong and ugly language. Teenagers are parents. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of strong, loyal, and dedicated minority characters.
Families who see this movie should talk about what got these boys into trouble and what this program taught them. What does it mean to say that they needed to fill a void? How can you be loyal to a friend without getting into situations you know are wrong? How do we give people power over us when we don’t forgive them? Why does Sean stay out of the locker room in the last game’s half-time?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the 1993 documentary about the real-life Sean Porter, as well as The Longest Yard (the original is a far better movie than the Adam Sandler remake), M*A*S*H, The Dirty Dozen, and Greenfingers (all with mature material).