Monday, November 16, 2015

Movie Review: MY ALL AMERICAN (Warning: SPOILERS)

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
2 Timothy 4:7

As a Longhorn fan, we're embarrassed to admit we'd never heard the Freddie Steinmark story.  We're embarrassed further to admit that for as many dozens of times we've walked by the DKR Stadium Freddie Steinmark memorial pictured below, we never knew what it stood for.  That changed tonight when we saw Angelo Pizzo's MASTERPIECE My All American.

Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock) was a safety on U.T's 1969 National championship team.  A believer from Colorado, as a football player he was undersized but he outworked and outhustled everyone else.  When no other team wanted to offer a scholarship to him, legendary U.T. Football coach Darryl K. Royal made him a Longhorn.

Freddie Steinmark emerged in 1968 following U.T's 6-4 1967 campaign.  Considering the 2015 team's 4-6 record, we were amused to hear Coach Royal explain: "A 6-4 record is unacceptable at the University of Texas."  Because of the mediocre season, Coach Royal went out of his way the next year to make spring and fall practices as physically onerous as possible.  Dozens of players disappeared.  Freddie Steinmark, by contrast, thrived to the point he became the starting safety as a sophomore.

With Steinmark on board, Coach Royal's 1968 squad ran the table during the final nine games, a montage to which the film dedicated considerable U.T. Football nostalgia.  We LOVED this part of the movie, though we admit to grading it with the home team advantage.  Just when you start to think things are going a little too well, however, Frankie Steinmark feels a sharp pain in his left leg heading into the 1969 season.

The 1969 season flips back and forth between the Longhorns' on-field success and Freddie Steinmark's deteriorating leg.  Steinmark helps lead the Longhorns through Oklahoma, Baylor, and A&M (sidenote: THOSE were the days).  But the leg continues to get worse.  The season ends with the #1 'Horns facing off against #2 Arkansas in the de facto national championship game.  Steinmark promises his girlfriend Linda (Sarah Bolger) he'll have a doctor check out his leg following the Arkansas meeting.  Steinmark plays heroically, if inconsistently, in the phenomenally well shot twenty minute national championship game scene.  Three days after the Longhorns win the national championship, Freddie Steinmark is diagnosed with fatal bone cancer in his left leg.

Following the diagnosis, Freddie Steinmark has his left leg amputated.  The final third of the movie chronicles his struggles with his faith, his family, and Coach Royal.  We won't go into too much detail, but this section is simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring.  We see the essential value of strong faith and a strong family.  Freddie Steinmark returns, one last time, to lead his teammates onto the field in the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame.

Freddie Steinmark memorial in player's tunnel at DKR Stadium.
While we admit to grading with the home team advantage, we LOVED this movie.  My All American is inspiring for BOTH the grit with which Freddie Steinmark built his Football career and the grace with which he faced his illness.  A strong cast, strong direction, and strong writing make for captivating cinema.  We were impressed by the cinematography by which a film set in late 1960's Austin was shot in modern Austin (with a lot more high rise buildings).  Well worth watching.


My All American official preview:

1969 U.T. - Arkansas national championship game:

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