A gifted high school football player must learn to boldly embrace his talent and his faith as he battles racial tensions on and off the field in WOODLAWN, a moving and inspirational new film based on the true story of how love and unity overcame hate and division in early 1970s Birmingham, Ala.
Tony Nathan (newcomer Caleb Castille) lands in a powder keg of anger and violence when he joins fellow African-American students at Woodlawn High School after its government-mandated desegregation in 1973. The Woodlawn Colonels football team is a microcosm of the problems at the school and in the city, which erupts in cross burnings and riots, and Coach Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop) is at a loss to solve these unprecedented challenges with his disciplinarian ways.
It’s only when Hank (Sean Astin), an outsider who has been radically affected by the message of hope and love he experienced at a Christian revival meeting, convinces Coach Gerelds to let him speak to the team that something truly remarkable begins to happen. More than 40 players, nearly the entire team, black and white, give their lives over to the “better way” Hank tells them is possible through following Jesus, and the change is so profound in them it affects their coach, their school and their community in ways no one could have imagined.
“Woodlawn” is a winner! This splendid, action-packed, dramatic and compelling movie features extraordinary performances from Sean Astin, C. Thomas Howell, Jon Voight, Nic Bishop and Caleb Castille. Its theme is straightforward: Believe in Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and honor him, and anything is possible. The film shines, as Coach Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop) changes from a man who isn’t interested in religion, to a man who makes a bold stand for his new faith in Christ. A fired-up chaplain named Hank (Sean Astin) fires up Coach Gerelds and the entire Woodlawn football team. Hank is the one used to ignite a spark that spreads like a wildfire. He speaks about David fighting Goliath with a stone and a slingshot, and he pulls a stone from his pocket, illustrating the point. The team begins to believe in God and believe that they can win. The team, indeed, begins to win, and the town, filled with racial tension, begins to embrace the team’s outstanding African American player, Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille). Voight helps provide comic relief as the Alabama coach who wants Nathan so badly, he brings his suitcase to Nathan’s home and swears not to leave until the player agrees to join his team in the future. In another comedic scene, a teacher is at a student-sponsored prayer meeting in school, and when a school official asks her about it, she says the students are overseeing it, and “I was an atheist last week.” C. Thomas Howell plays a rival coach who undergoes a conversion himself and is extremely funny before and after his conversion.
The featured themes are perseverance, the willingness to change, hard work, and equality. This movie is an inspiring and well-constructed telling of a young man’s life journey, and those connected to him. Chaplain Hank’s line, “This is what happens when God shows up,” is really the overall theme of the film. Based on a true story, “Woodlawn” has earned the coveted five Doves from us, our highest rating and our best compliment to this film.