McFarland, film review: Kevin Costner stars in a Disney-made inspirational yarn

(PG) Niki Caro, 129 mins. Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Carlos Pratts

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The Independent Culture

This Disney-made sports movie, based on a true story, is one of those wholesome, inspirational yarns in which the underdogs overcome every hurdle placed in front of them. Kevin Costner plays Jim White, a sports coach whose habit of giving underperforming athletes the Fergie treatment costs him his job. (He throws a football shoe, which ricochets over the locker and bloodies one team-member's face.)

With options running out, White is forced to take a job in McFarland, an impoverished town in California inhabited almost exclusively by Mexicans who either eke out a living as “pickers” or end up in jail. The initial loathing he and his family feel for the place dissipates as they begin to respect the courage and tenacity of the locals.

White puts together a cross-country team with kids hardened by back-breaking work in the fields. Their pampered opponents from privileged “white” schools sneer at them but soon the McFarland seven are competing at the State championships. The New Zealand director Niki Caro uses every device at her disposal to make a rousing, feelgood movie but risks turning the film into a glorified fairytale in the process.