Review by Dan Skip Allen
There have been a lot of football movies that have come down the pipe in the last fifty or so years. A lot of them have been pretty straightforward. They just put obstacles in the way of the players, coaches, and team in the film. Sometimes they are comedies such as The Replacements or The Waterboy, but mostly they are dramatic fare such as Friday Night Lights or Remember the Titans. Every once in a while, a Christian football movie gets released as well. Under the Stadium Lights is a mixed bag. It has a lot of dramatic moments, but mainly has a religious message to it.
The film focuses on the Abilene High School Eagles, a team that was considered the best in their division until they lost in the first round of the playoffs. They have to reevaluate who they are and what they're playing for. They have a mantra of "Who's your brother's keeper?" It's a creed that each one of these players has to embrace. It's not easy because most of these players have tough lives off of the field and away from school. As the creed suggests, though, they are not alone.
In sports films, the hook has to get the audience invested in the characters and story. The Christian angle can be that for sports films. They have an inspiring story using a religious message to move the film forward. Under the Stadium Lights is in the vein of other Christian films with its message, but it does things a little differently than normal. That's what sets it apart from all those other Christian sports films
The football in the film is never staged like a regular film. With the actors playing their roles as players, coaches, announcers, teachers, or parents, all the actual football scenes and games are taken from archival footage from games that were previously recorded during the season the film takes place in. That's very different than many other football films. Even though this film had a big-name star in Laurence Fishburne, it is pretty much stacked with relative nobodies except the coach, played by Glenn Morshower, a veteran character actor, and ex-NFL player and Hall of Famer Eddie George.
The budget couldn't be that big with not being able to film the football scenes or getting bigger named actors to play the characters in the film. It's a blessing because this allows for the filmmaker Todd Randall to focus more on the story and the message set out in the book Brother's Keeper by Al Pickett and Chad Mitchell. Milo Gibson plays Chad Gibson in the film and Abigail Hawk plays his wife. He is the main focus of the message that the film is trying to talk about.
The book Brother's Keeper is a nice thing to use for the script to tell this inspirational story. The lead Gibson's belief in faith, family, and football propelled this team, school, and town forward. The unique style of using archival footage to do the football scenes was ingenious. That helped focus more on the characters and their story. Todd Randall used every cent of the budget to his advantage.
Under the Stadium Lights hits theaters and VOD on June 4.