KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Tradition in Norway, Iowa (pop. 586) -– the setting for “The Final Season,” based on the true story of a small-town high school baseball team -– is carried on from father to son, generation to generation: This high school David exists to defeat Goliaths 10 times its size on the diamond.
As coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) leads the team to its 19th state title, a 20th seems to be a foregone conclusion. But the unexpected strikes when bureaucracy intercedes, merging the school district with another. Petty jealousies and political designs conspire to rob Norway of its heritage and a 20th championship. Making matters worse, legendary coach Van Scoyoc is fired and replaced with a one-season assistant coach, Kent Stock (Sean Astin) –- a move that seems to guarantee the team’s failure.
The Final Season, then, is a film about the sudden nature of change, the identity of a small town and the strength that brings out the best when we need it most.
Sports movies seemingly contain the same themes -– underdogs, team effort, finding oneself — but once in a while a visionary such as David Mickey Evans brings style and finesse to the genre. Solid performances, an involving true story and well-paced direction place this baseball film up there with “The Rookie,” “Pastime,” “Field of Dreams” and a few others that touch something fundamental in viewers.
Here’s an example of director Evans’s ability, and keep in mind we are talking about baseball, a sport renowned for its moments of slowness, where there seems little to do but watch the players scratch and spit: The Final Season doesn’t give us a chance to get bored. Evans uses every technical and editing trick known to filmmakers to keep the game footage engrossing and energized. He not only has a heart for the game of baseball but an ear for dialogue and an eye for detail when it comes to filming such stories.
Evans also manages to relay the nostalgic effect high school sports has on the psyche of a small Midwest community. In an era where social change happens by the second, Evans helps us reconnect with values we share with each generation. As coach Jim Van Scoyoc says in the film, “It’s the only game on earth where the object is to get home.”
Two nights after I saw this film, I found myself in a very small Kansas community at a Friday night high school football game. My brother’s son was playing and I attended, not as a sports enthusiast, but wanting to support my nephew. Well, the night couldn’t have been more perfect. Perhaps the best weather I’ve experienced in Kansas. We were surrounded by committed Friday night attendees in a community where sports, be it baseball, football or soccer, is part of the fabric of life. And to top off the evening, every so often a distant train could be heard passing on its melancholy way.
I sat there thinking, “I’ve seen this in movies a dozen times,” and I can tell you the producers of The Final Season got it right.
Phil Boatwright, online at previewonline.org, reviews films from a Christian perspective. “The Final Season,” which opens Friday, Oct. 12, is rated PG for a few minor expletives, but no harsh language or profanity (God’s name followed by a curse or the abusive use of Christ’s name).