Several players from different backgrounds try to cope with the pressures of playing football at a major university. Each deals with the pressure differently, some turn to drinking, others to drugs, and some to studying.
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Joseph C. Phillips,
A college football coach is told by his bosses that unless they do better this season it could be his last. To bolster the team he recruits a talented wide receiver. A female student is assigned to help him assimilate with college life and that includes doing his studies because he spent his whole life just playing football. And he finds himself attracted to her and she already has a boyfriend who is also on the team but he might be more concern about losing his position than losing her to him. And the coach has to deal with his other players' situations like the team's quarterback who deals with his father being distant by drinking and it eventually gets him in trouble. And one of the team's defensive players is obviously using steroids but passes the drug tests. Written by
The Program may very well be the best film on college football ever done in that it shows its not quite the way it was when Pat O'Brien was playing Knute Rockne or even when Knute Rockne himself was coaching at Notre Dame.
During the Nineties another classic film about professional football was done, Any Given Sunday. The main theme about Any Given Sunday was that sports was now more business than anything else. But pro football has always been a business. What The Program shows is just how much a business college football is, yet it maintains the fiction that this is amateur athletics.
As is so eloquently put, no one is going to pay for a ticket to see a chemistry exam. Football with its ticket revenue, its alumni contributions, it's TV and radio rights, it's memorabilia rights is a very big business. It brings in money for the colleges, hence the colleges have a vested interest in a winning team. And some will do quite a bit more than others.
James Caan does a fine job as the coach of mythical ESU who is a decent man caught up in the system. He operates his program straining the bounds of ethics. He knows full well that some of his kids are being greased right through college without an education, but football is his life and living and Caan operates the best he can.
His players are a cross section of young America. Craig Sheffer is the very talented quarterback from a white trash background trying hard to rise above it. Omar Epps is the inner city ghetto kid who sees football as his ticket out. Andrew Bryniarski is the defensive player that steroids gave us, something Caan pretends not to notice until it really smacks him in the face. By the way Bryniarski was also in Any Given Sunday.
My favorite in the entire film is Duane Davis who is another kid from the ghetto who both really loves the game, can barely read and write, and who also sees it as a way of rising from poverty. He's a nice kid, but a bad influence on Epps who he constantly tells that The Program will grease him through. Davis just lives for that National Football League contract.
I do love the way Davis psyches himself before a scrimmage. You have to see the film to appreciate. Sad to say his is the saddest of all the stories here. You have to be made of stone to not be moved by seeing him at home, leg in a cast, listening to the final championship game with his mother, knowing the future he foresaw for himself is blasted to smithereens.
Halle Berry and Kristy Swanson are there as love interests to both Epps and Sheffer respectively. There characters are quite a bit more than the usual air-headed cheerleaders cast in these parts.
Another good performance is John Maynard Pennell as Sheffer's second string backup. He romances and talks Caan's daughter into taking an exam for him. When she's caught both are expelled. Caan personally kicks him out of the university and then has to swallow his pride and a good deal more to bring Pennell back when Sheffer has to go into rehab. That's also a classic scene.
The Program is one of the finest, if not the finest film on college football ever done. I think more than sports fans will appreciate this finely crafted piece of cinema.
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