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Running for His Life: The Lawrence Phillips Story (2016)

TV-14 | | Documentary | 16 December 2016 (USA)
Feature length documentary examining the troubled life and tragic death of college football standout and talented NFL running back Lawrence Phillips, whose scars of childhood abuse and abandonment haunted him throughout his career.


Ross Greenburg


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Credited cast:
Jimmy Johnson ... Himself
Tom Osborne Tom Osborne ... Himself
Lawrence Phillips Lawrence Phillips ... Himself (archive footage)
Nick Saban Nick Saban ... Himself
Dick Vermeil ... Himself
Jeffrey Wright ... Narrator


Feature length documentary examining the troubled life and tragic death of college football standout and talented NFL running back Lawrence Phillips, whose scars of childhood abuse and abandonment haunted him throughout his career.

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16 December 2016 (USA) See more »

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Interesting Look at a Trouble Human Being
21 December 2016 | by Eric266See all my reviews

I remember watching Phillips in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl run wild over the Gators. I am from Florida and remember well Nebraska playing Florida teams three straight years for the National Title. He was a beast. I thought, like most people, he would be an amazing NFL talent. As the documentary shows, he could run away from linebackers and defensive backs, but he could not run from his past.

Its that mindset that always bothers me. Not every abused child grows up to be a monster. Not all people who become monsters were abused. There is a certain level of responsibility that NO ONE in this documentary seems to accept. Phillips had a terrible childhood filled with abandonment, abuse, and loss. But he made his own decisions and failed to control his anger. None of his friends, coaches, relatives seemed to accept his issues and/or try to do anything about them. They just kept saying what a sweet, kind, smiling kid he was as a youngster. The documentary kept showing over and over the same 3 or 4 pictures of Phillips with a wide grin on his face. As if that excuses them using him for his talent or his celebrity and not stopping his mad crash. I understand its not their job to try and control his demons, but good lord, Tom Osborne basically sold his soul to get Phillips on the field for the Fiesta Bowl. Much like today's sporting climate, it was only after the media started publishing the photos and the stories did Osborne finally convince Phillips to declare for the draft.

The documentary, despite its bleeding heart leanings, is well done. The interviews and timeline are top-notch. Ross Greenburg did an exceptional job of weaving all these folks, (except for the girlfriend Phillips dragged down three flights of stairs by her hair who refused to take part), was impressive. You could see these people cared about Phillips, but he was a raging river and they were just the rocks he slammed into and around, like so many defensive backs. Greenburg did an outstanding job of getting these folks to open up about their own torment of being part of Phillips' life. My opinion of Phillips didn't change after seeing the film, but my empathy for those who he affected has. The film does a marvelous job of showing you a timeline of how Phillips got to where he ended up with the interviewees providing the narrative.

I just wish the folks would have opened up more about Phillips' dark side. In order to get the full measure of a man, you can't just discuss his positive side. He had a great smile? Was he smiling when he choked his girlfriend into unconsciousness? He ate dinner at your home at your table with your teenage son? Great. Was he being a great role model for teenagers when he tried to run them down after a pickup football game? They all wanted to discuss his good side, but clammed up about his darker impulses (except for his last girlfriend whose assault ultimately sent him to jail). She was brutally honest and you could tell it still pained her. She loved the man, but was helpless to understand him.

All in all, its a well done documentary. It fell short on being the full measure of the man due to the reason stated above. Still, I have a little more insight into a human being and an athlete who seemed to have it all, but couldn't outrun the ghosts still chasing him it. May he have found peace in death that eluded him in life.

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