×

Film Review: ‘The Last Whistle’

Brad Leland scores as a Texas high school football coach who pushes his players too far in Rob Smat’s indie drama.

Director:
Rob Smat
With:
Brad Leland, Deanne Lauvin, Les Miles, Eric Nelsen, Tyler Perez, Fred Tolliver Jr., Kristos Andrews, Jim O’Heir.
Release Date:
Jun 28, 2019

Rated PG  Running time: 88 MIN.

Perfectly cast as the most overbearingly demanding Texas high school football coach to appear on screen since Jon Voight made life miserable for James Van Der Beek in “Varsity Blues,” Brad Leland is the most valuable player in “The Last Whistle,” a modestly engaging indie drama that attempts, with mixed results, to traverse the middle ground between blunt-force criticism of win-at-all-costs philosophy and sentimental celebration of influential father figures.

Leland, arguably best known for his role as a small-town football booster in the TV series “Friday Night Lights,” is fearlessly, even aggressively unsympathetic during much of his screen time here as Victor Trenton, a Fort Worth area high school football coach who’s introduced as a skilled tactician whose winning ways may lead to his being hired by a prestigious university — but only if his team continues to, well, win.

Partly because he’s eager to impress his potential employer, but largely because he is an unforgiving disciplinarian, Trenton prepares for a big game by forcing everyone on his team to perform grueling and excessive maneuvers during an afternoon drill because one slackerish player (Tyler Perez) failed to show up on time. Unfortunately, another player — Benny (Fred Tolliver Jr.), one of the coach’s favorites — is fatally stressed out on the field during practice, as a result of a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

Writer-director Rob Smat plays fair during the aftermath of the tragedy, refraining from placing all blame for the player’s death on Trenton’s shoulders, but at the same time emphasizing that Trenton’s tone-deaf defensiveness, brusque rebuffing of criticism and alcohol-fueled self-pitying make him mostly worthy of the scorn and ostracism that is his lot after public opinion turns against him, school officials consider firing him — and Benny’s grief-stricken single mom (Deanne Lauvin) files a lawsuit against the coach not for monetary gain, but to keep him from ever coaching again.

Not altogether surprisingly, Trenton starts to focus on the error of his ways, however begrudgingly, in the third act of “The Last Whistle.” Some viewers may be discomforted by the idea that the conspicuously Caucasian coach is more or less absolved, if not extolled, through a conveniently discovered testimonial written by the deceased African-American player. On the other hand, Smat is smart enough not to push things too far. The final scenes stop far short of providing the cheap thrill of a feel-good wrap-up, and are all the more effective for that. Indeed, Trenton evolves to a point that is emotionally and dramatically sound, Leland makes that evolution credible, and the movie ends precisely when it should.

Film Review: ‘The Last Whistle’

Reviewed online, Houston, June 27, 2019. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 88 MIN.

Production: A Vertical Entertainment release of a Last Whistle Entertainment presentation of a Downing, Kutzler, Gonzalez production. Producers: Michael Orion Downing, Thomas Kutzler, H. Max Gonzalez. Executive producers: Allen Dobbins, Tracy Dobbins, Ted Paup, Brad Corbett Jr., Dan Kutzler, Bea Kutzler, John Bennett, Rusty Reid, Molly Reid, Eric Nelsen, Sainty Nelsen, Marc Walraven, Elizabeth Walraven, Jim Goldner.

Crew: Director, writer: Rob Smat. Camera (color): Brian M. Tang. Editor: Carter Feuerhelm. Music: Logan Austin.

With: Brad Leland, Deanne Lauvin, Les Miles, Eric Nelsen, Tyler Perez, Fred Tolliver Jr., Kristos Andrews, Jim O’Heir.

More Film

  • A woman prays at a makeshift

    Japan Expresses Its Grief Over Deadly Kyoto Animation Arson Attack

    Fellow animators and others in the Japanese entertainment industry have expressed their sorrow and solidarity with Kyoto Animation, the well-respected anime studio that suffered a horrific arson attack and the deaths of dozens of staffers. “We are all fellows in the same boat. If we continue to create without being afraid, we will find solace [...]

  • For Lineup Story

    Billie Piper's Directorial Debut, 'Rare Beasts,' to Bow in Venice Critics' Week

    “Rare Beasts,” the directorial debut of British stage and screen actress Billie Piper (“Doctor Who,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Collateral”) is set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, which has unveiled its lineup of nine first works, four of them from female filmmakers. Produced by Vaughan Sivell of Western Edge Pictures in association with [...]

  • 'Mientras dure la guerra' -Rodaje Modmedia-

    Alejandro Amenabar, Ricardo Darin, Paco Cabezas Bound for San Sebastian

    MADRID  –  Alejandro Amenábar, Ricardo Darín and Paco Cabezas, director of episodes from “Peaky Blinders” and “American Gods,” look set to join Penelope Cruz, already confirmed as a Donostia Award winner, at this year’s 67th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival. The biggest movie event in the Spanish-speaking world, this year’s San Sebastian runs Sept.20-28. Amenábar’s [...]

  • Pinewood Studios James Bond

    Netflix's Shepperton Studios Deal Is Stretching the U.K.'s Production Limits

    Netflix’s huge new hub at Shepperton Studios outside London is a further fillip for Britain’s booming production sector. Amid jitters over Brexit and its effects on the economy, the streaming giant’s commitment is a vote of confidence in the U.K. entertainment industry and a continuing source of local jobs. But the decision by Netflix to [...]

  • Bottom of the 9th

    Film Review: ‘Bottom of the 9th’

    Nearly two decades after scoring an audience award at Sundance for “Two Family House,” a smartly understated yet deeply affecting indie about a Staten Island factory worker who deeply regrets stifling his showbiz ambitions, director Raymond De Felitta steps back up to the plate with “Bottom of the 9th,” another dramatically solid and emotionally satisfying [...]

  • Endemol Shine Builds ‘The Bridge’ in

    Endemol Shine Builds ‘The Bridge’ in Africa (EXCLUSIVE)

    DURBAN–Endemol Shine Group has sold the rights to adapt its critically acclaimed and highly popular Nordic Noir detective series “The Bridge” to Cape Town-based production company Both Worlds Pictures, Variety has learned exclusively. The series will feature an all-African cast and will be set around the Beit Bridge border crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Originally known [...]

  • Durban Film Fest 2019

    Durban Fest Hails Film as ‘Conscience of Our Nation’

    DURBAN–When Ros and Teddy Sarkin raised the curtain on the first Durban Intl. Film Festival 40 years ago, the odds were long that their scrappy fest would survive its inaugural edition. The apartheid government and its draconian censorship board had a stranglehold on the films that reached South African theaters, banning the sorts of subversive [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content