‘Woodlawn’ tackles racism, spiritual awakening in Tony Nathan, Alabama biopic
Faith-based films have exploded on the cinematic stage and the Erwin brothers (Moms Night Out, October Baby) are stretching their legs with Woodlawn, an inspiring story from the 1970s when public high schools were overcoming integration, race riots were still commonplace and sports appeared to be the arena to set aside our differences.
Woodlawn focuses on the life of Tony Nathan, a young black athlete on a struggling football team, and the school’s coach Tandy Gerelds, played by Nic Bishop (Covert Affairs, Body of Proof). Both are at the epicenter of an unexpected spiritual rival initiated by chaplain Hank Erwin (Sean Astin), the real-life father of the filmmakers, and the effects spill over onto the football field.
Transformed by their salvation, the team tastes victory through “Touchdown Tony” in a David versus Goliath moment. The journey turns into a battle against the hatred of the outside world, finding purpose driven love for one another, a preaching of the gospel through actions and still being a faithful account of this amazing football saga.
Jon Voight turns in a lovable and appealing rendition of Bear Bryant offering wisdom during recruiting trips. C. Thomas Howell steals every scene in the first half of the film as the maniacal opposing coach, Shorty White.
Caleb Castille makes his acting debut as Tony Nathan, but he is no Chadwick Boseman in 42 or David Oyelowo from Selma, so expect the critics to pile on the young actor even thought he does a great job.
The cast does a good job, with only a scene or two that may need to get reworked from this rough cut screened well ahead of the planned October release.
DeVon Franklin was perfect as the inspiring “black preacher” and I wish he had a greater presence in the film. And yes, I know he does that for a living.
This was an early cut of the film, so much of the football footage was incomplete, but the cuts to the “real life” footage were very engaging. I hope the Erwins find cut aways to TV screens or newspaper photos to emphsize those moments and cement that this IS a true story.
Overall Woodlawn would receive 4 stars out of 5 stars (noting that there would acceptable improvements during the editing process)
That is notable, since I don’t feel most critics will be objective on the film’s approach to “separation of church and state,” taking a stand for your belief or Hank’s speeches, which proved to be transformative. (Yes, in real life!)
Folks that enjoy football films, historical pieces and biopics will enjoy the film if they give Woodlawn a chance.
Christians will love this film and should embrace the timeliness of having a “revival” film being released in the wake of the Supreme Court rulings and other intrusions on their religious freedom.
Note: Assuming the cut stays the same, don’t rush out of the theaters – you wouldn’t want to miss the real footage of Billy Graham. It will make sure you leave wanting to raise you finger in the air, pointing to the heavens and our great Father.
(I will see the final version of the film and do a follow-up review, so stay tuned to coverage right here on The Dispatch!)