(Courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
Sam Rockwell plays Bill, an ex high school hoops stars whose career as an up and coming boys basketball coach is cut short and he finds himself waiting tables at a local restaurant. He's also dealing with a tumultuous relationship with his daughter and an ex-wife whose pity is something Bill isn't prepared to deal with.
When his former high school teammate Terry (Rob Corddry) proposes he coach his alma mater's varsity team, Bill jumps at the shot. But his leap comes crashing to the ground when he's informed it will be the girls' varsity squad he'll coach. When he finds five and a half players waiting on him, the rebuilding of team and man begins.
As the season progresses, the team learns the ways of winning as their coach begins to self-destruct as his relationship with his daughter becomes worse until, as the team stands on the brink of the sectional tournament, Bill is picked up for driving under the influence.
Fired from his coaching job, his team visits him as he's busing tables and informs him he's still their coach and needs to come up with a plan to be there for sectional. Unable to convince his buddy to let him coach, Bill resorts to sending instructions to the team through his assistant coach via phone and has her run outside so he can instruct her how to adapt their game throughout their contests.
In the sectional final, he dresses up like a mascot to be close to the team and it's that devotion to his team that begins to bring his daughter around. She helps him get instructions to his assistant as the team battles for the sectional basketball title. And as with all great basketball movies, it comes down to one final shot to win it.
"The Winning Game" is all about learning lessons, finding one's self and ultimately redemption.
Rockwell brings credibility to any project he's attached and this film is no different. If another actor tackled the role of Bill, this most certainly could have been your standard movie of the week. As his career progress, if you need an actor who's tormented or very complex, Rockwell is hard to beat.
Surprisingly I was impressed with Emma Roberts. I'm not too familiar with her work, but she's got that something that draws you in and keeps you interested. She's given a role that doesn't require too much, but she takes what it offers and really gives a nice understated performance.
My biggest problem with the movie was its lack of accuracy. The film takes place in Indiana, known for its love of hoops, and gets some things wrong. At one point Bill tells his team their final game will decide if his team has a winning season or a losing season. Technically that's not possible, but the next line really caused me problems.
In his pregame pep talk, he tells his team that the game will decide if they are able to play in the sectional or not. Indiana doesn't have a play-in tournament. If you have a high school team you're in. A little more attention to detail would have gone a long way.
If you're a person who requires a multitude of extra goodies on your disc, you'll be extremely disappointed in "The Winning Game" disc. There was a promise of an audio commentary, but I found only the theatrical trailer and nothing more.
Final Cut: In spite of good performances from Rockwell and Roberts, "The Winning Game" attempts to tackle significant subjects but fails to find resolutions that are satisfying to most. For younger audiences, the film might play better, but for a more broad audience, it's feels too juvenile.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Emma Roberts, Margo Martindale, Rob Corddry, Jessica Hecht
Director: James C. Strouse
Writer: James C. Strouse