Besides being an avid film buff and overall nerd when it comes to different movies (especially the horror genre), the other vise in my life is the world of sports. No matter what type of sport it may be, chances are that I’ll stop and watch for a while if I happen to catch an event while flipping through the channels. Baseball, basketball, football, hockey, golf, tennis, track and field, and hell I’ll even watch curling and jai alai if one of those events is on the tube. One sport though that I’ve never caught a lot of over here in the states is rugby and that it is because it’s predominately a sport played in other parts of the world. I’ll tell all of you something it is one of the most brutal and intense things you’ll ever have the privilege to watch and it can truly bring people together in unity. There’s really no choice because if you don’t have someone watching your back then chances are you’ll end up face down on the ground.
Rick Penning is a budding rugby star at a high school in Salt Lake City, Utah. Knowing he is good at his craft and not one of those that takes direction very well; Rick is usually at odds with his hot-headed coach, and father, Rick Penning Sr. The whole team is a group of carefree kids that love to have a good time, drink, party it up, and just play rugby. Such a lifestyle comes back to haunt them though when Rick ends up sending his girlfriend Tammy to the hospital thanks to a drunken driving accident that also sees him sentenced to a year in a juvenile detention facility. Luckily she wasn’t seriously injured or else it would have surely meant jail time for Rick and a certain end to any type of career in the sport he loves.
Upon arriving to serve his sentence, Rick automatically shows that he still isn’t one to listen to authority and this sits just fine with Warden Marcus who has plenty of bathrooms for his new inmate to clean. Not wanting to be very sociable; the other teens feel as if Rick thinks he is too good for them because he won’t even participate in their football games in the yard. Soon though he makes well with them and even introduces them to the world of rugby and how it is all he loves. Warden Marcus takes notice to not only Rick’s camaraderie with the other guys but also his talents for the game and gets him a tryout with a local rugby team named Highland. Once again Rick butts heads with authority and is at odds with his new coach, but he soon learns that he may have also finally found where he belongs.
Forever Strong is one of those feel good films that is aimed at teaching lessons to the viewers and hoping the message truly comes across in a good way and sinks in. These types of films are also usually based on true stories as is the case here in profiling the story of Highland Rugby and the winningest coach in all of USA Rugby, Larry Gelwix. One main difference here is that this tale of good will and success comes with the rather, and mostly, unknown sport of rugby. Let’s face it, there really aren’t that many people out there that know anything about it at all and probably wouldn’t give this film even a first glance because of the supposed subject matter. Yes, it is about rugby and is built around the highly successful team of Highland, but it is also a really heart-rending story about a young kid and the troubles he faces by being an overbearing hothead. I’ve met many kids just like Rick Penning and all of them could do with a little bit of time in a confined facility.
It is by no means going to be one of the more profitable or well known inspirational sports’ films like We Are Marshall or Miracle or Hoosiers or even Varsity Blues (shut up, I like it), but it is worth checking out. Some of the actual rugby action sequences are a bit confusing and hard to keep up with, but it’s a small complaint. Don’t go thinking you’ll come out of watching Forever Strong and know more about rugby then you did before because it certainly isn’t a technique teaching film either. But it might very well make a few people sit up and take notice to a sport that gets little attention and has a lot more to it then just what is happening on the field.
The film is shown in 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen format and has a really good look to it. There are no compression issues or any problems with colors.
The film is heard in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and it also does a sufficient job for the film, but the surround sound could have been taken a little more advantage of.
The Making Of Forever Strong – Behind the scenes footage is shown interspersed with interviews from cast, crew, and some of the real counterparts for the characters in the film. Amazingly enough it continues the very inspirational feelings that come with the actual film. Very good. (22:30)
Life Lesson From Coach Gelwix – These lessons are excerpts from a presentation entitled “Living Forever Strong” given by Gelwix. It’s quite good and well worth listening to as he goes through lessons of honesty, loyalty, not focusing just on the final score, and even a literal lesson in not playing with snakes. (26:00)
The Haka – Coach Gelwix gives a history lesson of the Haka and explains why he wants his teams to learn and perfect it. (3:46)
Outtakes – Some playing around on the set including a very funny “Rudy” chant for Sean Astin and even a Lumbergh impression. (2:07)
Viral Videos – A small collection of three short internet videos that had been released to promote the film. The last one is the funniest by far. (1:38)
Trailers – Outlaw Trail and Saints And Soldiers
Rugby may not be the most popular sport on this side of the world, but it certainly should get more attention then it does. It is a tremendous sport that includes plenty of hard hitting and a lot of thinking in order to get the job done and win the game. If you’re looking to learn more about it though then Forever Strong is not what you should be looking for. This is a film about inspiration, motivation, learning how to fit in wherever you may go, and most importantly your self worth. All those involved deliver stellar performances and really know how to make you care about every single person that is on screen. The special features really are put together nicely as well to make this a complete DVD from top to bottom that is definitely worth a rental and should truly merit a purchase for most as well. And if you’re still not interested then I’m going to let people know that it’s a mind-blowing experience for someone such as me in their early thirties to see Sean Astin playing a serious role AS AN ADULT. Little Mikey from The Goonies is all grown up.
Excel Entertainment presents Forever Strong. Directed by: Ryan Little. Starring: Gary Cole, Sean Faris, Penn Badgley, Sean Astin. Written by: David Pliler. Running time: 112 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: May 26, 2009. Available at Amazon.com