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Sunday, December 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast
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We Are Marshall
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There are football movies, and then there's We Are Marshall, which should be penalized for roughing the viewer. You may recall the full-throttle, swish-pan stylings of director McG from the Charlie's Angels movies while watching the true story of a chartered-jet crash that killed all but four of the 1970 Marshall University Thundering Herd.

The tragedy has been slavishly translated to the sports-movie formula. As the team rebuilds its ranks the next year, there's a hesitant administrator (David Strathairn), a guy who quits (Huntley Ritter), quietly supportive wives (January Jones and Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and bone-crunching footage of the underdogs' season. The movie gives us one naysayer (Ian McShane), who seems to be a composite character for bereft parents. But the movie doesn't take his pain very seriously: He's simply the antagonist, and his job is to cause trouble for the coaches (Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox) until he sees the light. With 75 people dead - an entire chunk of a small West Virginia town - circumspection seems appropriate, but the movie will have none of that foolishness. It wants you to pump your fist and cheer your grief away, no exceptions.

Consider by comparison another movie about a real-life small-town tragedy, Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. One is quiet and reflective, the other noisy and aggressively heartwarming. Pick your flavor. I'm still figuring out what to make of McConaughey, who cuts a comic figure with his plaid double-knit slacks and pomaded comb-over. As the requisite rule-breaking coach, he's far weirder than, say, the Rock in this year's Gridiron Gang, and his motivational tactics approach coercion. But like little else in the movie, he has the power to surprise.

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