MCFARLAND, USA

I dreaded going to MCFARLAND, USA. The weather was retched; I had to drive an hour one way to see a sports movie with a predictable outcome. A cross country coach Jim White, played by Kevin Costner, in a small California town transforms a team of athletes into championship contenders.

It is 1987 and Jim White a football coach at a Michigan High School is fired when he throws a shoe at a player and hits him in the face.

As a result, he is forced to move his family to McFarland, a small, impoverished Hispanic community in California. Immediately, the family feels alien. The only house they can afford is very small and dilapidated. White wants to do anything he can to achieve success and move his family into a more affluent environment.

Although he is hired as an Assistant Football Coach at McFarland High, he immediately clashes with the Head Coach at the first game. The Principal succumbs to the wishes of the Head Coach and makes White the PE and Science Teacher instead of a coach.

The students are “pickers” which means that they and their families perform the grueling task of picking crops for a living. The families depend on the kids to help or they won’t make enough money to survive. The kids wake up at 4:30 am every morning then go to the fields. They run to school then run to the fields after school.

White realizes that several of the students are extremely fast and can run for great distances. He persuades the Principal to create a cross country track team. He needs seven boys on the team.

White’s family, his wife and two daughters love the town and its people and fuse into the culture extraordinarily well. White learns what life is like as a picker by joining the families in the field and earns the support of the community.

I would have liked to see more interaction with the runners and with the family. I think they missed an opportunity to enrich the film by spending too much time on watching the boys run.

I felt I had seen Mr. Costner in this roll before. He is the king of the sport film genre with movies such as TIN CUP, FIELD OF DREAMS, BULL DURHAM and DRAFT DAY.

The film was directed by Niki Caro and written by Chris Cleveland, Bettina Gilois, and Grant Thompson.

I ended up enjoying the film and was glad I made the effort. The audience responded favorably, too. I was very surprised when the audience applauded at the end of the film.

The Telegraph’s contributing movie critic Mary Cox lives in Wood River and is a member of the St. Louis Film Critics Association, who also occasionally writes about film-related topics, studied film at the University of California, Los Angeles, and worked in L.A. with various directors and industry professionals. She can be reached at mlcwriter@charter.net.