Plot: What’s it about?
I’d think that there was some confusion between National Champions and American Underdog, another recent film with football as its main topic. Both films were released theatrically around the same time. I have now seen both films, and quite enjoyed Underdog, despite its story being riddled with clichés. While National Champions deals with two football players who initiate a strike only days before the college football championship, it isn’t a football movie in the traditional sense. This should be noted up front. Outside of the opening credits, there’s very little actual football in the film. Instead, this deals with the aftermath of teammates Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) and LeMarcus James (Stephan James) decision to go on strike. It’s certainly a relevant topic for today’s world, and one that does strike a good debate on why these plays are paid so little while everyone around them is making serious cash. I don’t feel the film is the most effective or entertaining given the topic at hand, but it does get a lot right and covers a controversial topic fairly nicely even if the story meanders a bit too much to earn my full recommendation.
Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) and best friend and teammate LeMarcus James (Stephan James) announce they’re both boycotting the upcoming game because they are not compensated fairly. They are in seclusion and eventually take to social media and some news outlets that will hear their story. The head coach James Lazor (J.K. Simmons) learns of this and before long he recruits other teammates to help track down the two players. That is our basic story, and had the film stuck to this topic it might’ve been more effective. Instead, it keeps going different directions and loses momentum along the way.
I have said in other reviews of sports films that I am not in fact a sports fan. I can honestly say I find football games to be extremely boring, but there are football films that I have quite enjoyed despite my lack of interest in the game. Friday Night Lights comes to mind and I mentioned American Underdog when I began this review. National Champions had me in its first half, but its detractors eventually became overbearing and I can’t endorse more than a rental. I do think the topic at hand, however, is a strong one and it will be interesting to hear some post-movie discussions on where people stand. I think the players make a strong case for why they should be more fairly compensated. But I am not here to debate. The cast is all strong here, but I still think a better film on this topic can be made. As it stands, give it a rental with adjusted expectations and you may find it mostly worth your time.
Video: How’s it look?
I wish the transfer here was a bit sharper. We get an AVC encoded 2.39:1 ratio. Let it be said that this doesn’t look bad by any means, but I just expected a sharper image than what we get. Details are strong, but the sharpness is what I felt was lacking. Overall, it’s more than passable, but I just expected to have a bit higher remark.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Like the transfer, the DTS HD track is passable, but could’ve had more impact. I had to adjust the volume on several occasions to get all that was being said. It’s more of a dialogue driven film than action, so don’t expect the most robust track anyway. As it stands, it’s more than adequate, but I just wanted a bit more crispness and clarity than what’s given.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Behind the scenes – a brief behind the scenes look at the film, that features cast and crew interviews. It’s worth a single viewing even if it’s largely promotional in nature.
- The Music – Another brief feature that takes a look at the music heard in the film. It’s brief, but still provides decent remarks to warrant a quick viewing.
- Sports Trivia – At just under a minute, this simply shows a text on screen asking the cast sports related questions. It’s too brief to really be worth a darn.
The Bottom Line
A rental is the most I can endorse here. I feel the topic is more interesting than the film itself. It could’ve used more focus. The Blu-Ray leaves a bit to be desired in the A/V and thin supplements. They don’t even total 10 minutes.