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Film Spotlight: McFarland, USA 

According to our calculations, Jim White was in his 40s when the cross-country team he coached at McFarland High School, a small school in a poor California town, won its first state championship. It's a remarkable story given the fact that the kids came from such poor backgrounds that they often had to work their practices around obligations to work in the fields as "pickers." And yet actor Kevin Costner, who portrays coach White in McFarland, USA, is 60. While it's a minor inconsistency, it's suggestive of the way in which Costner, who simply looks too damn old to be an aspiring high school coach, can't bring out the guy's charisma and seems miscast in this movie. It opens areawide on Friday.

At the film's start, White and his wife (Maria Bello) have just moved to the dusty town where it immediately becomes apparent that Spanish is the dominant language. As Jim, a former football coach, starts teaching physical education classes at the school, the students take to affectionately calling him "Blanco." He notices how fast the kids are as they run from school to work and then to their homes. So he convinces them to start formally training, and he puts together a cross-country team. The team gets whipped at the first meet it enters but that only motivates Jim to work harder.

In order to understand the kids better, Jim spends a day working with them in the fields. It really wipes him out but it also gives him a better appreciation for the hardships they endure. He also spends time with their families and realizes he hasn't been the best father. While these scenes could be pedantic, they're handled nicely and work to humanize Coach Blanco.

The story of how an outsider turned around not only a team but also a town (the people of the city really rally behind the boys) is an inspirational one and the film has many great moments, but director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) ultimately can't transcend the genre. It doesn't help that Coach's running tips ("Go faster!") aren't entirely convincing either. Stick around for the end to see a nice clip of modern-day White on a run with the old crew.


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