By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Kevin Costner has a confession to make about his new Disney film, “McFarland USA,” in which he plays the coach of a cross country team made up of poor migrant students, who initially don’t even own running shoes.
“I hate running,” the veteran actor/director reveals during a press conference to promote the movie.
Fortunately, for him and for moviegoers looking for something other than a two-hour experience of watching guys running for miles and miles to test their endurance, “McFarland USA,” is not about the sport so much as it about a group of individuals who overcame obstacles like poverty and low expectations through sheer grit and determination. Cross country is simply the backdrop to the story, which is based on real events.
Costner plays Jim White, a coach who moves with his family to this California central valley community to teach high school physical education to the children of Spanish-speaking migrant workers, and winds up forming a team of cross country runners, who become (spoiler alert) state champions.
In the film version, White is a man looking for redemption, after losing his job following a physical altercation with a student at another school. It’s also about the seven young men—three of them brothers—whom he shapes into athletes, inspiring and encouraging them to achieve their full potential. Like any good sports-themed movie, “McFarland USA” is about what you can achieve with talent, teamwork, commitment, determination, dedication and hope.
The two-time Oscar winner (“Dances with Wolves”) is no stranger to the genre (if there is a genre for feel-good sports-themed movies), having previously starred in two baseball-themed films “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham.” At 60, the still boyish-looking Costner has advanced to the coaching role. The California native says when he commits to a film, it has to be about something he believes in or it has to tell a story that moves him. “McFarland USA” fulfilled both of those requirements.
He first read about White and his team of underdogs in a “Sports Illustrated” article several years ago. When filmmaker Niki Caro (“Whale Rider,” “North Country”) approached him to star in the film alongside a cast of mostly young and inexperienced actors playing who played the team members, he was ready to go.