“Rudy” is one of those beating-the-odds tales that no one does better than Hollywood. A film that hits all the right emotional buttons, it’s an intelligent , sentimental drama that lifts an audience to its feet cheering. In the current filmgoing climate, this is an easy winning touchdown that should score big returns.
Based on the life story of Joliet, Ill., native Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin), it chronicles Ruettiger’s battle to overcome the seemingly impossible educational and physical handicaps in his path.
From the get-go, Rudy has been filled with tales of Notre Dame’s legendary Fighting Irish football champions. It matters little to him that his slight stature and below-average scholastic standing make him a highly unlikely candidate for the school or the squad. His brother mocks his ambition and his father (Ned Beatty) vainly attempts to bring him down to earth.
His future would seem to be a job in the local smelter. But when his only friend and ally dies in a freak accident, Rudy packs his bags and heads for the South Bend campus.
A priest (Robert Prosky) impressed by his determination gets Rudy into an allied college, and, against all odds, he succeeds. Along the route he learns other valuable life lessons. A primary guiding influence is Fortune (Charles S. Dutton), the stadium grounds manager who reminds him that whether he makes the football squad or not, he has the golden opportunity to get a quality education.
“Rudy” is rife with insights about the nature of ambition and the caste system that pervades American society. Angelo Pizzo’s screenplay is a heartfelt paean to the working class. Pizzo and director David Anspaugh are working on familiar emotional turf, having earlier explored the thrill of victory in “Hoosiers.””Rudy” is richer, less obvious material. That it gives the impression of a by-the-books tale only makes its unexpected turns more satisfying.
Astin works as hard to shake off his bland image as his character strives to achieve his ambition; his youthful zeal is perfect for the role. The large supporting cast is excellent, particularly Dutton and Jason Miller as legendary Fighting Irish coach Ara Parseghian. There are also ample opportunities for its cast of newcomers to excel.