Kevin Costner Shines in McFarland USA

McFarland directed by Niki CaroYou may think you’ve seen this movie before; I know I did,
going in. How many stories can there be about a disgraced sports coach who
finds redemption while turning a group of underachievers into a winning team? What
sets McFarland USA apart from the
crowd is the specifics of its setting, the honest way it portrays its Latino
community, and the sincerity of its star, Kevin Costner, who gives one of his
finest performances as the coach. Great credit is due New Zealand director Niki
Caro, who made her name with Whale Rider
and brings the same gift of observation and organic approach to this material.

I hesitate to use words like “heartwarming” and “inspiring”
because they are so abused by movie marketers, but in this case they both
apply. McFarland USA is based on a
true story and set in an impoverished Central California fruit-picking town in
1987. Costner plays Jim White, whose short fuse has cost him several jobs. With
no other options he brings his wife and daughters to McFarland, which seems
like a dead end in every sense of that term. Most of his students have to
juggle their school schedule with daily work in the fields, picking fruit with their
families. Then one day White notices one of the boys running home at a terrific
rate of speed. It sparks a thought that here might be a sport at which these
kids could excel. It will require winning over not only the reluctant teens but
their parents as well; this forces White to ingratiate himself with the
community, which up to now he has held at arm’s length.

Caro immerses us in the local culture along with her
protagonist (whose last name—White—is an object of ridicule, at first). With
great empathy, she creates a tangible sense of a town as extended family and
wears down White’s resistance along with ours. She draws natural and engaging
performances from her cast, which includes a number of novices and
nonprofessionals. This is particularly impressive in building rooting interest
for the seven hard-working boys who become cross-country runners. By the time
of the climactic races I defy you not to cheer for these underdogs.

McFarland USA
doesn’t sugar-coat its story or the challenges these boys and their families
face on a daily basis, yet it manages to do so under the umbrella of a Disney
release and a PG rating. A film with this much heart deserves to be seen by the
widest possible audience.


Subscribe to our newsletter


Maltin tee on TeePublic


Maltin on Movies podcast


Past podcasts


Maltin On Movies Patreon


Leonard Maltin appearances and booking


June 2024