Movie Review: The 5th Quarter
The Charlotte Observer
“The 5th Quarter” is a modestly effective and sometimes quite moving film of the death that inspired the 2006 Wake Forest University football team to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title. A generic sports drama, it scores points for being that rare “faith-based film” to show a little edge.
Ryan Merriman stars as Jon Abbate, a talented linebacker for the always-overmatched Demon Deacons football team.
When his younger brother Luke (Stefan Guy) is killed in a reckless driving accident, Jon and his parents (Aidan Quinn, very good, and Andie MacDowell) struggle to cope with the shock and the grief.
Writer-director Rick Bieber gives us some wonderfully emotional scenes as the family agrees to let Luke be an organ donor and we see the payoff from that act of charity.
But back at school, Jon can’t cope. He goes through too many pitchers of beer and only the intervention of his girlfriend (Jillian Batherson) and best friend (Josh Smith) get him home, where a personal trainer puts him back on task. “You’ve got to start living for two. You’ve got to make your brother proud.”
Bieber intercuts footage from the games of that storied season (a 30-0 beatdown of Florida State was a highlight) and doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with the locker room speeches. Merriman is a muscular young man, but the film goes to great pains not to put the actor on the field.
Merriman has his best moments with the various people who pitch in to help him with his grief, from his pastor to coaches and the Wake Forest community.
Jon’s anger at God about why “bad things happen to such good people” is the focus here.
MacDowell and Quinn both have meltdown moments, scenes which logically have a blast of profanity and a bottle one parent crawls into.
Bieber’s best-directed scenes are group moments – a slow pan down a hospital hallway filled with worried friends, classmates, teachers and parishioners, an entire football stadium which picks up the signal that Jon, wearing his brother’s number 5 jersey, holds up to his parents. Five fingers. It’s the fifth quarter. Time to suck it up and finish “our miracle season” for Luke.
“The 5th Quarter” has corny moments and creaky scenes – a couple of tone-deaf interventions are staged in crowded restaurants. The pace is too slow and the football tends to hijack the more personal story that should be the point.
But this film, like the upcoming “Soul Surfer,” shows “faith-based” films don’t have to be so sanitized or preachy that they lack relevance.