×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Codebreakers

Fresh off "Four Minutes," ESPN returns to the 1950s and comes up with another winning pic. Dealing with a cheating scandal that rocked West Point and Army's then-powerhouse football team, pic is a complex exploration of whistle-blowing, rule-bending and the anything-to-win mentality that remains prevalent today.

With:
Coach Earl Blaik - Scott Glenn Holbrook - Jeff Roop Nolan - Zachery Bryan Bob Blaik - Corey Sevier DeSantis - Theo Rossi Straub - Jake Busey Assistant Coach Lombardi - Richard Zeppieri

Fresh off “Four Minutes,” ESPN returns to the 1950s and comes up with another winning pic — one that possesses greater resonance in terms of modern college sports and double standards governing athletes. Dealing with a cheating scandal that rocked West Point and Army’s then-powerhouse football team, pic is distinguished by a nifty period look, solid perfs throughout and complex exploration of whistle-blowing, rule-bending and the anything-to-win mentality that remains prevalent today.

“Codebreakers” (a terrible title that sounds more like a World War II espionage thriller) also features a born-to-play role for Scott Glenn as Army’s snarling, grizzled football coach Earl “Red” Blaik. His assistant was none other than Vince Lombardi (Richard Zeppieri), who went on to gain fame coaching the Green Bay Packers and is credited with the phrase, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

That determination to win, however, often comes at a price — in this case, an answer-passing system among members of the Army team, who, in 1950, were in the midst of a dominant winning streak. That success fueled an almost messianic zeal, with Blaik insisting his charges don’t just represent West Point: “We play for the American people.”

Yet as is so frequently true, the brawniest and swiftest on the field aren’t always the brainiest and swiftest in the classroom. So the players began assisting each other in an elaborate scheme, convinced the coaches either know what they’re up to or at least are willing to look the other way.

Of course, cheating violates the military’s honor code, creating a moral dilemma for several of these young officers in training, among them Blaik’s son Bob (Corey Sevier), both a gridiron star and a top student; and roommates Holbrook (Jeff Roop) and Nolan (Zachery Bryan). When one of them chooses to report the malfeasance, it threatens to rock the institution and trigger the dishonorable discharge of the co-conspirators.

Working from a script by G. Ross Parker, veteran episodic director Rod Holcomb brings a starched efficiency to the proceedings, including a particularly well-staged re-enactment of the Army-Navy game. In many respects, the movie is reminiscent of John Sayles’ “Eight Men Out,” as even players reluctant to participate at first are drawn in by the apparent ease of a perilous situation that, as the younger Blaik realizes, “is spreading too wide.”

Both the Toronto locations and the fresh-faced cast lend period authenticity to the production, though at times it’s difficult to distinguish one young cadet from another. Nevertheless, there are enduring themes here about the courage to resist peer pressure as well as viewing athletes as a privileged group to whom the usual rules don’t apply.

Granted, ESPN’s forays into dramatic fare remain a little fuzzy strategically, especially with its drift toward less recognizable topics after more easily marketed (but less appealing) biopics of Pete Rose, Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Knight.

Still, a good movie’s always welcome, and “Codebreakers” cracks that code.

Codebreakers

ESPN, Sat. Dec. 10, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Toronto by Orly Adelson Prods. Executive producer, Adelson; co-executive producer, Jonathan Eskenas; producer, Frank Siracusa; director, Rod Holcomb; writer, G. Ross Parker, based on the book "A Return to Glory" by Bill McWilliams;

Crew: camera, Thomas Del Ruth; production design, James Newport; editor, Michael Brown; music, Anthony Marinelli; casting, Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein. Running Time: 120 MIN.

Cast: Coach Earl Blaik - Scott Glenn Holbrook - Jeff Roop Nolan - Zachery Bryan Bob Blaik - Corey Sevier DeSantis - Theo Rossi Straub - Jake Busey Assistant Coach Lombardi - Richard Zeppieri

More TV

  • Anders Holm and Tika Sumpter

    Anders Holm and Tika Sumpter Cast in 'Black-ish' Spinoff Episode

    Tika Sumpter and Anders Holm are joining the growing “Black-ish” world, Variety has learned. They will both star in the upcoming prequel episode, which could reportedly launch into its own spinoff series. As earlier reported, ABC is in development on the prequel that would focus on Tracee Ellis Ross’ character Rainbow. Holm will play Paul, Rainbow’s father, [...]

  • Writers Guild Blasts CAA, WME for

    Writers Guild Blasts Talent Agencies CAA, WME for 'Soaring' Profits

    The Writers Guild of America has singled out Hollywood’s largest talent agencies, William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency, for allegedly soaring profits. The WGA, in an acrimonious negotiation over proposed new rules about how agencies represent writers, issued a report called “agencies for sale” on Monday morning — a few hours before a fifth [...]

  • Kevin Tsujihara

    Kevin Tsujihara Out as Warner Bros. Chief Amid Sexual Impropriety Scandal

    Kevin Tsujihara has resigned his post as chairman-CEO of Warner Bros. following an investigation into his relationship with actress Charlotte Kirk and allegations he used his clout to help her find work at the studio. In a statement, Tsujihara said he realized “my continued leadership could be a distraction and an obstacle to the company’s [...]

  • The Village NBC

    TV Review: NBC's 'The Village'

    Even by the standards of network television, NBC’s “The Village” wears its inspiration boldly and openly: It’s “This Is Us,” except set among the disparate residents of an apartment building rather than the members of a family. “The Village” leans, hard, into the “This Is Us” formula of trauma-as-drama, deriving its tone from its characters [...]

  • TV Shows to Watch the Week

    TV Shows to Watch the Week of March 18, 2019: ‘The Act’ Premieres on Hulu

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, “The Act” premieres on Hulu and “The OA” returns for Season 2 on [...]

  • Fox News Logo

    Former DNC Chair Donna Brazile Joins Fox News as Contributor

    Donna Brazile, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, will join Fox News as a contributor, the cable-news network announced Monday, making a high-profile liberal commentator part of the offering from a network often seen to have close ties with conservative voters. Brazile, a veteran Democratic strategist, will offer political analysis across both Fox [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content