The inner workings of a traditional high school football powerhouse are explored, and the trials and tribulations the players face are exposed.
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With an array of stars including James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Amy Smart, Ali Larter, Scott Caan, and Paul Walker, Varsity Blues dives deep into the variables that drive an American phenomenon known as high school football. Set in a small Texas town called West Canaan, the story is centered around Jonathon Moxon (James Van Der Beek) as he struggles with finishing his senior season as a backup quarterback. While a great player in his own right, he is not as good as the Florida State bound Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) who is the starting quarterback and brother of his girlfriend Jules Harbor (Amy Smart). The movie opens at the halfway point of the season with a scene of the five main players and great friends, Moxon, Harbor, Charlie Tweeder (Scott Caan), Billy Bob (Ron Lester), Wendell Brown (Eliel Swinton), riding to school for the morning pep rally. We learn quickly that these guys really care about each other, and want to win for each other than, more than they want to win for their coach or the town that lives and breathes through them.
As the guys arrive to school at the pep rally, we get our first glimpse of Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight). Kilmer is the coach who put West Canaan on the map and is respected and feared by everyone in the town except for the players who play for him. Kilmer is an overbearing, championship obsessed, coach who is riding the coat tails of his latest great player, Lance Harbor. At the pep rally, through Kilmer's speech, one can read between the lines and quickly discover Kilmer cares about one thing and only one thing, winning. We also learn from this pep rally, based on all the people attending, that this town also cares about one and one thing only, and that is winning football games on Friday nights!
The town, it's past, present, and future, revolves around the West Canaan Coyotes winning games. The only ones that seem to see a world beyond West Canaan are the five players the story revolves around, especially Moxon. This point is made very apparent during the first game sequence when Moxon is sitting on the bench reading a book hidden inside his playbook. Moxon knows his future lies at Brown University, and that as long as Lance is healthy, he'll never see one down under Kilmer's watch. It is grossly apparent Kilmer fears Moxon and wants to
During the next game, late in the fourth quarter, Lance severly injures his knee. Apparently, he had been suffering from previous knee damage that Kilmer simply overlooked because he needed Lance at quarterback, and this hit was the final blow. Lance is carried off on a stretcher and Moxon is thrust into duty. Although Kilmer does not care for Moxon, he has no choice if he wants to satisfy his lust for winning. We quickly see though, Moxon refuses to conform to Kilmer's rules when he calls his own plays to win the game.
As the season progresses, Moxon continues to find ways to win and defy Kilmer in the same breath. The rift between Kilmer and Moxon continues to widen. Moxon, as a quarterback, experiences great success much to the shagrin of Kilmer. However, Kilmer is in a bind, and knows his next region title lies in the hands of Jonathon Moxon. Moxon's success carries over off the field as well when Darcy Sears (Ali Larter), Lance's girlfriend, makes a pass at Moxon. She was riding Lance's ticket to Florida State, and with that out the window, Lance is no good to her anymore. Her plight to get out of West Canaan just futher illustrates the haze this town is fallen under. Moxon being the good guy he is, refuses Darcy, and assures her that she can get out on her own merit.
Varsity Blues is a classic struggle between good vs. evil with Moxon representing all that is good and Kilmer encompassing everything evil. Moxon is constantly forced to make tough decisions and stand up for his beliefs against all odds. As a viewer, I find myself feeling the anxiety, anguish, and fear Moxon feels as he makes these decisions. Having played football at a high school powerhouse and coached high school football in a town similar to West Canaan, I have seen how a town can become fully engulfed into this situation, and I can feel the pressure that is placed upon Moxon and these other players.
Varsity Blues does an excellent job of illustrating the good and bad found in high school football. The excitement and energy is captured as well as the pressure and pitfalls. Yes at times, this movie is a little overdramatic, but it uses this drama to drive their point home. For example, a coach could not really change transcripts. However, a coach could curtail playing time, fail to send tapes to colleges, and bad mouth a player to college coaches. Varsity Blues does a wonderful job of illustrating this point when Kilmer refuses to allow Wendell, a black running back, to score touchdowns or send his tapes to colleges simply because he is black. Varsity Blues makes you question your own inner morals and think about how you would react in these tough situations. The question between doing what is right and what is popular is always a struggle for everyone, and in a society where sometimes being politcally correct is more important than doing the right thing, this question becomes even more difficult to answer. Varsity Blues, beyond its great football action, good acting, and stellar cast, it shows us that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and that as long as we continue to hope, we always stand a chance of accomplishing greatness.