Published On: Tue, Jul 21st, 2015

‘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.

Woodlawn photo Caleb Castille Nic Bishop and Kevin SizemoreJon 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.

Woodlawn football team prayingCaleb 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.

Jon Voight as Bear Bryant in WoodlawnThe script doesn’t give the cast those “Oscar” moments which make critics rave, but the story yanks and pulls on the audience’s emotions, asking several spiritually challenging questions.

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)

woodlawn-posterLiberal reviewers will take issue with the “in your face” Jesus message of the film, which will be refreshing for the Christian audience.

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!)


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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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  1. Kevin Sizemore previews ‘Woodlawn’ - The Global Dispatch says:

    […] Check out the full review of the rough cut here on the Dispatch — click here […]

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