Movie review by Andrea Karen Hammer
McFarland USA, a surprising Disney film, is based on the true story of a Latino cross-country team racing against the odds.
In the role of Coach Jim White, the initially subdued Kevin Costner has landed in an impoverished school district after losing his former job because of a temper flare-up. During his first meeting with Principal Camillo (Valente Rodriguez), he is warned that this “last stop” is his only option, given his ongoing record of getting involved in disagreements.
New Coach Initially in Distant Coasting Mode
Coach Jim White vehemently dislikes his new “dump” and remains at a distance from students and colleagues. Nonetheless, he tries to resist arguments–even when provoked–and goes into coasting mode.
Despite his best efforts to stay removed, Costner becomes intrigued watching students run to school after their crack-of-dawn jobs as pickers with other migrant workers. As he drives behind the ready-to-burst student Thomas (Carlos Pratts) and clocks his incredible speed running through the fields, White hatches a plan to assemble a cross-country team with seven students.
Talented Actors Convey Complex Issues
The natural and thoroughly convincing ensemble of actors, including Carlos Pratts, powerfully conveys some of the complex issues in this story. The overweight Danny (Ramiro Rodriguez), who generally trails behind but is ultimately a determined “ox,” portrays the likable “under-dog.” Senor Diaz (Omar Leyva), who temporarily pulls his sons off the team because running won’t put food on the table, is one of the parents revealing the stark realities of their lives.
Despite these objections and other obstacles, White starts to push the runners, so they can compete against runners who literally try to trip them. As the boys practice on makeshift hills, they also start to tackle some of the larger obstacles in their lives including finding a way to go to college and get better jobs.
Firsthand Effort to Understand Others’ Lives and Cross Divides
During the grueling process, Coach Jim White starts to care for the runners and gets up at dawn to harvest the fields with them while doing back-breaking work. Slowly, the Latino cross-country team stops viewing Kevin Costner as the outsider called “Whitey” or “Blanco” and finally recognize him as a trusted “Coach.”
While the group faces tough–and frightening–issues together, they begin to cross divides once considered impossible. McFarland USA is a must-see Disney film for those who care about closing multicultural chasms, enduring difficulties with grace and determination and outracing those who try to push them aside.