Guts, heart, soul and troubled heroes
PopcornReel.com Movie Review: "Gridiron Gang"
By Omar P.L. Moore/September 14, 2006
We are Mustang
family: second from left Xzibit as Malcolm Moore and, far right, Dwayne "The
Rock" Johnson as Coach Sean Porter in Phil Joanou's "Gridiron Gang".
(Photo: Sony Pictures)
The true life story of Sean Porter's efforts to
help redeem the souls of his embattled youthful charges is chronicled in this
roller-coaster of a film about troubled teenage men at Camp Kilpatrick, a
maximum-security juvenile compound just north of Santa Monica, California.
Director Phil Joanou (the documentary "U2: Rattle and Hum", the film "State of
Grace") directs "Gridiron Gang", a better-than-average film about uplifting and
transforming the young men who have made a minor career of staying on the
streets, and in perpetual trouble. Whether it be via killing, or coming
from a broken home, or stealing, Camp Kilpatrick accommodates all those who have
crossed the lines of legality.
The real Kilpatrick (at which "Gridiron" was filmed) had recidivism rates of
close to 75%. Porter, who had his fair share of scrapes with the law
before becoming a probation officer, teamed up with fellow officer Malcolm Moore
to come up with a solution to help change the negative dynamics in the youths'
lives. Kilpatrick is the last step before adult prison. Dwayne "The
Rock" Johnson plays Porter and delivers an intensity and hard-driving
relentlessness that recalls the real Sean Porter. Xzibit is particularly
good as Malcolm Moore, and his charisma and spirit reflect the energy,
commitment and dedication to the difficult task of forcing kids from different
gang backgrounds and races to come together in an environment that inevitably
breeds tension, mistrust and hostility.
Countless times we see Willie (Jade Yorker) head to the Camp's lock-up facility.
Willie loses a family member to the harsh realities of violence, and spars with
Calvin (David Thomas) a fellow juvenile delinquent who is in the gang that had
carried out the killing of Willie's relative.
Yorker as Willie, a troubled teen under Sean Porter's (The Rock) tutelage in
"Gridiron Gang." (Photo: Sony)
After persuading a high school coach to let the
teens play on the school's facilities, the team of juveniles become the Coach
Kilpatrick Mustangs. At first, as Powell acknowledges, they have trouble
spelling out the word "mustangs" as they work out doing jumping jacks.
Soon after the recruits are whipped into shape, they get whipped by opposing
high school teams. After absorbing the school of hard knocks, the harsh
lessons of the streets are never more than a few minutes away. Joanou's
film shows us that just when you think the teenagers have been able to overcome
the demons that have brought them to the Santa Monica Mountains, reality hits
some of them very squarely in the face, up close and personal.
"Gridiron Gang" is about making a difference, one person at a time, in small but
significant ways, in the lives of troubled youths that societies the world over
would just as soon ignore. Inspiration is also a vital theme in "Gridiron
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has broadened his horizons in a variety of roles
in his film career, delivers something more profound in his performance as Sean
Porter. There is a spiritual girth and depth to some of the lines and
expressions that accompany his work. His show of emotion when asked by
Willie if he has forgiven his own father is profound and moving. The Rock
has given performances in myriad films ("Walking Tall", "Be Cool", "Doom" to
name a few), but there is a greater substance to his work in "Gridiron Gang".
He seems to dig deeper, and whether it is because in real life his teenage years
resembled those of the real-life Sean Porter, or whether it is because Mr.
Johnson has acquired a more refined acting method, he is galvanizing and moving
"Gridiron Gang" is based on the 1993 Lee Stanley documentary of the same name
about the Camp Kilpatrick juvenile facility, which he co-produced with Linda
Stanley, his wife. That documentary featured the real Sean Powell and went
on to win an Emmy Award.
While this particular film will probably not be
in line for Oscars next year, it is safe to say that it will win an "A" for
effort with audiences.
Copyright 2006. PopcornReel.com. All Rights Reserved.
"Gridiron Gang" is rated PG-13 for some
startling scenes of violence, mature thematic material and language. The
film is about 1 hour and 45 minutes long. The film is written by Jeff
Maguire, based on Mr. Stanley's documentary.