It seems like the past few years have seen a run on sports films that demonstrate the power of learning sportsmanship on a team level can alter the lives of the misbegotten youths suffering from the angst of society's perceptions. We've been through soccer, baseball, tennis, dance, track and football: GRIDIRON GANG uses football as the pivotal point, but due to the presence of a fine script by Jeff Maguire who adapted Jac Flanders documentary film, and cohesive poignant direction by Phil Joanou who knows how to move a large cast around and keep it personal, and most of all due to the overpoweringly fine performance by Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson this film is so honest and uplifting that it doesn't leave a dry eye in the audience.
The story is well known: Probation Officer Sean Porter (Johnson) is frustrated that the boys in his camp for young criminals when released to the streets show 75% returning and a large number dying in gang related violence. He sees this trend as being due to the lack of self-esteem in kids whose lives outside are demeaning and encourage failure. He gathers support from his fellow workers Malcolm Moore (Xzibit), Paul Higa (Leon Rippy) and Ted Dexter (Kevin Dunn) and gradually builds confidence in his project to organize a football team of his inmates. We wisely get to know the background of a few of the more difficult incarcerated boys, a fact that makes the project more full of tension and understanding of the problems to be resolved. Though most of the cast are unknowns, they are fine actors in this film: Jade Yorker, David V. Thomas, Setu Taase, Mo, James Earl, Trever O'Brien, Brandon Mychal Smith, Danny Martinez, Joe Seo, and Joey Lucero.
Through the team's growth as a unit they confront and manage to cope with problems and grow into goal-driven, good spirited young men. The presence of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson is stunningly underplayed and all the more powerful for it. This is a sensitive performance that places Johnson in an all new category of respect as an actor. The film is overly long (120 minutes) due to repeated games the team plays and for devotees of Football that will be a positive aspect. But far more important than the games is the quiet growing of trust and faith that shows in the faces of this fine cast. Recommended viewing, especially for those who think they have seen too many sports related do-good films! Grady Harp