Review by Dan Skip Allen
Sports movies can be a mixed bag at times. They can inspire as well as entertain the masses, or they can go down a road so many have gone down before. It's hard to do a sports movie and make it original or have it say something important without using the same old tropes sports movies in the past have used. Unfortunately, Heart of Champions isn't very original and it follows a very familiar formula.
This film focuses on the sport of rowing. It's a high society sport that mostly rich kids are involved in. This particular Crew team is at an Ivy League college. The team has some issues with its members. They don't all get along. When an ex-Army veteran (Michael Shannon) takes over as coach, he shakes things up quite a bit. These kids haven't seen anyone like him in their lives.
This film has the typical sports movie drama that the writers and director are trying to get the viewers to care about, such as the two main members of the team (Alexander Ludwig, Alex MacNicol) fighting for leadership and also a girl. A newcomer (Charles Melton) to the team shakes things up as well. His presence interrupts the already shaky dynamic of the squad.
These characters all have different motivations for being part of this team. Some are just there because it's a legacy thing and others are there to prove something to someone, a family member, or a loved one. The fact remains the characters all have interesting story arcs, but this has been done before, and much better, in other films. Shannon is just going through the numbers himself. He's been much better in better films.
Even the trope of the overbearing father figure (David James Elliot, JAG) has been done to death. This film is as non-original as peanut butter and jelly. The filmmakers have copied so many sports films from the past, it's like they were watching them while writing this story. The style isn't original either, there aren't any visuals that stand out as far as cinematography or set production. The '90s setting of the film may have as well been today the way it looked.
This film isn't very good from a bunch of places. It is a cookie-cutter copy of so many sports films from the past. Michael Shannon, a very good actor, seems like he's going through the motions. The young cast is fine, but I won't remember them tomorrow. The script and direction are bland and not very memorable. This film just doesn't know what it wants to be. The sport of rowing isn't this bad from what I've seen of it. It deserves a better movie to represent it though.
Heart of Champions hits theaters and VOD on October 29.