“Listen, I know you’ve been playing for Luke all year, but for this game… I want you to play for you. You’ve earned it. I want you to take the burden of this family off your shoulders and I want you to go out there and I want you to have a ball. I want you to hit someone haaard! I want you to play for the joy of playing the game… or the love of playing for the CHAMPIONSHIP!”
Luke (Stefan Guy), a rising star at lacrosse and football in high school and seems destined for a bright future until he climbs in the car with a reckless teenage driver. One deadly car wreck later, Luke is laying brain-dead in a hospital with his devastated parents, Steven (Aidan Quinn) and Maryanne (Andie McDowell) by his side. The hospital explains that law requires them to pull the plug on brain-dead patients, but keeps Luke alive long enough for his classmates, teachers and big brother Jon (Ryan Merriman) to say their goodbyes. Grief from Luke’s sudden death ravages the Abbate family. Jon initially decides to sit out the rest of the football season, but coaches and pastors intervene, and soon family, faith and football save the day.
First off, I have no problem with family-friendly, Christian-value-based movies as long as they are well conceived and executed. Sadly, in the Christian movie genre that is rarely the case, and this movie is no exception. Writer/Director Rick Bieber decided to let many of the people actually involved in this tragedy play themselves in the film, dragging the acting down to elementary school play level. In fact, other than Aidan Quinn and Andie McDowell, the rest of the cast barely rises to industrial training film standards.
The opening sequence with Luke illustrates this perfectly. We should feel something for Luke, caught up in a spark of his charisma, but Stefan Guy can barely mumble out his lines and gives you no sense of who Luke was and why he was so beloved at his school and home. Of course the script gives him nothing work with, but I doubt Stefan could have handled more than sitting frozen-faced in the back of a car mumbling protests at the douchebag teen driver who was about to wreck the car.
Aidan Quinn delivers a brave and moving performance as the grieving father. Andie McDowell looks good on camera as all models turned actresses do, but other than that she gives her typical one-note performance. As a father, I will not deny the hospital and funeral scenes deeply affected me. I even found myself weeping in empathy over the loss of their teen child.
This is about the time the film switches gears, sending us off to college with grieving Jon, and loses all impact. Since the movie never lets you get to know Luke, it is hard to really relate to the effect his loss had on those around him other than his immediate family. Jon’s friends, coaches and teachers can’t seem to reach him. This comes to a head during a horribly embarrassing scene where Jon breaks down in a bar screaming the age old cliché, “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” God lets that stuff happen so it will inspire Wake Forest University’s football team, the Demon Deacons (wtf?) to rise above their perpetual losing record and win the conference championship for the first time.
I can get around some bad acting and writing if the sports scenes are compelling. Unfortunately, the football scenes are easily the worst scenes in the movie. Bieber decided to use the vintage footage of the games interspersed with new footage featuring the characters on the sidelines. The football footage is shot on amateur video and does not sync with the filmed scenes, and you are jarred out of the movie every time they show the plays captured from a distance in muddy video. Most of these shots are quick clips, so it always feels like a recap. You are never a part of the action.
Not being a part of the action seems to be the theme here. Most of the interesting plot points are handled off screen. We are told about how great Luke was, about marital problems caused by his death and the inspirational leadership that rose from those ashes, but we never see this on screen. What does make it to the screen is a whole bunch of moralizing and heavy-handed Christian advice. If that kind of thing floats your boat, you might enjoy this movie, but if you want a rousing and inspirational sports film, you won’t score with The 5th Quarter.
The AVC/MPEG-4encoded image is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio; the 1080p high-definition transfer to 25GB single layer Blu-ray is bright and crisp and runs an average of 19 Mbps. The skin tones are natural and the blacks fairly balanced, but slightly crushed in shadows and night shoots. The exterior scenes of fall foliage were rich with warmth. However, the incorporation of the vintage football footage is ugly and flat, like a video dub of a video dub which was digitally enhanced.
There is little or no surround immersion in the DTS HD 5.1 soundtrack. Even during the crowd scenes everything is pushed up front. The dialog is recorded clearly, but many of the amateur actors mumble or swallow their words, so it can be a challenge understanding them at times. The music/SFX to dialog ratio is fairly balanced. There is little to no bass response from the subs.
The Making of The 5th Quarter (480i HD 06:15) is the EPK for the movie, a tribute to the true-life story of the Abbates featuring interviews with the director Rick Bieber, stars Adian Quinn, Andie McDowell, and Ryan Merriman as well as original members of the Abbate family. This is the sole special feature.
The senseless car accident that killed 15-year-old Luke Abbate is truly a tragedy. His older brother, former Houston Texan, Jon Abbate’s amazing college football season in honor of Luke’s death is a real life triumph. Typically these are the ingredients to a great sports movie. Unfortunately, The 5th Quarter is not a great sports movie. Although it obviously seeks to score with the audience by carefully honoring the Abbate family and everything they have been through, amateurish acting, writing and directing sack this film in the first quarter. However, if none of that matters and you are just looking for a family safe movie flaunting Christian values, you probably will enjoy it. If you are a member or a friend of the Abbate family, or alumni of Wake Forest University, this is a devoted tribute to you, and I am sure you will love this movie.
“Luke was with you today, I know he was.”