Mr. White (Kevin Costner) is a gym teacher with a reputation of being a hot-headed liability. After losing his last job, he has no other offers other than a post at McFarland High School. He has to accept it. McFarland is in Southern California and is home to a high population of Mexicans who earn their trade picking on the numerous farms around the area. A potentially volatile place for a middle-class white family, or so Jim White feels. With not much of a football team at McFarland High, Mr. White looks at another way to get the most out of the children. As the family become more comfortable in the town, Mr. White’s transition to cross-country coaching becomes the talk of the town. Mr. White and the boys slowly become inseparable and the team give their all to make the state championship.
McFarland is a Disney sports film, and there is no doubt that it fits that genre perfectly. It is very much in the same ball park as Cool Runnings and The Mighty Ducks, with the only difference being its lack of comedy moments. McFarland is attempting to be a serious film about race and the outlet that sporting achievements can bring. Does it succeed? In some ways, but it still is very much a white film dealing with racism. You’re not going to believe that Disney would deliver a thought-provoking or alternative look at racial issues in the US and because of that, McFarland is a pretty good film if you enjoy the formulaic sport drama.
Kevin Costner is solid in his performance as Mr. White, the tough coach finding his place in life somewhere he would have never thought of. Carlos Pratts is at some points convincing as Thomas Valles, the talented boy with a complicated and violent home life, but often overplays the distressed character. Maria Bello is superb as Mrs. White and brings more to the character than the script seemed to offer. Niki Caro’s direction helps to bring this film together and she manages to avoid a potentially awful film, creating a very watchable Disney film.
All in all, McFarland is a solid family film with an array of lessons in life and morals that will either leave you wiping your eyes or grimacing feverishly. Either way, as far as Disney sport movies go, McFarland ticks all of the boxes.