Presented By: Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
In 1990, a football team, comprised of hardened juvenile detention camp prisoners, began a journey toward greatness. The team was led by camp probation officers, Sean Porter and Malcolm Moore, who sought a way to keep their prisoners, mostly former gang members, from returning to their criminal activities upon their release. They believed that bringing these prisoners together, making them a team who can believe in one another and in themselves, giving them discipline and teaching them a skill, would set these youths on a better path, better equipping them for life on the outside.
In 2006, Sony Pictures brings you Gridiron Gang, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Sean Porter), Xzibit (Malcolm Moore), Kevin Dunn, Leon Rippy, Jade Yorker, and more. Neil H. Moritz shares his producer role with Lee Stanley, upon whose 1993 Emmy Award winning documentary this movie is based.
The movie begins at Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention center for boys located in California. We are introduced to Sean Porter, a probation officer with a heart. Frustrated with the overwhelming statistical data regarding their prisoners, Porter and co-worker Malcolm Moore discuss the possibilities of rehabilitation. They are faced with overwhelming statistic – 75% of their wards will find themselves back in jail not long after they are released. The two probation officers realize that it is not enough to lock them up with strict rules against physical contact, because the prison is much different from the world these youths will be returning to, where gang rules supercede all that may have been taught them while “on the inside.”
Thinking back to his days as a somewhat troubled youth, Porter realizes that it was football that instilled in him many of the values that he holds today. He decides that teaching his wards this sport may be the perfect way of instilling some pride, respect, and honor in these prisoners, teaching them that there is a better way to face their issues. Porter and Moore present their case to the “powers that be” who become intrigued with the idea.
However, it’s one thing to come up with a plan of action and quite another to actually implement it. Sean Porter and Malcolm Moore soon realize that there are many obstacles that must be overcome before the two can even commit to creating a team. First, they must find teams who will be willing to play them. Since Camp Kilpatrick does not have a viable football field, the teams Porter and Moore approach must agree that the games be played on their fields. Then, there is the consideration that hardened criminals will be taken on road trips into the unsuspecting public. There is the matter of equipment allocation. And how do you get former rival gang members – sworn enemies – to set aside their gang ties for the good of the football team?
Once the proverbial ball starts rolling however, there is no turning back. Each of the prisoners chosen for the team bring their own baggage to the field, but with the help of coaches Porter and Moore, they learn to overcome their adversities and focus on a positive future. Opposing gang members united in one cause – the team – and found that they weren’t as different as their gangs once professed. Lessons learned are not limited to the players. The administration learns that these kids are not lost hopes. Sean Porter is subject to a few lessons of his own as he struggles to build a cohesive team out of his prisoners, while dealing with some debilitating personal problems of his own.
Gridiron Gang is an uplifting movie, brilliantly directed by Phil Joanou. There is not one viewer in the movie audience who won’t find themselves rooting for these outcasts of society. The big question in the world today is how to rehabilitate juvenile offenders so that they will not grow up to become adult members of the prison community. This movie, based on true events, gives us hope for the future.
Often criticized for his acting ability, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson proves that he is more than just a former wrestler bit by the acting bug. His performance is powerful, even in the more emotional scenes. “The Rock” shows that he is up to the task, whether it be as a hardcore football coach or as the emotional, caring man behind the hardcore façade. Xzibit is excellent in his supporting role. Most impressive is Jade Yorker, a young man struggling to overcome the hate and turmoil of his former gang-riddled, tormented life in hopes of a better tomorrow.
Viewers will find themselves absorbed not only by the story as a whole, but by the underlying stories of each of the major players in the film. The emotional highs and lows of this film will evoke many a tear from even the most hardcore of movie-goers. Throughout the movie, you will find yourself rooting for the success of both the coaches and the players. You will wonder what became of each and every one of them. Not to worry, the end of the movie sheds some light on the futures of many of the players.
A true testimony to how good a movie is can only be related by actual events. As the credits rolled, I heard one or two people clap. The lights grew a tad brighter as people rose, heading toward the exits. And then something happened. While the credits rolled, bits and pieces of the original 1993 documentary were aired. People froze where they were – near their seats, in the aisles, at the exit doors – eager to learn more about the people on which this movie was based. No one made a move toward the exit until the credits were complete. That’s the true testimony of a movie that has made its mark on the hearts of its viewers.
So go see Gridiron Gang…and bring some tissues. You may feel the need to wipe a tear or two from your eyes, but at the end of the film, you will feel incredibly uplifted by the experience.