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Review: ‘Touchback’ tackles touching football tale

Courtesy of Anchor Bay Films

For a movie that has been predominately marketed for its football component, “Touchback” proves to be much more than just another tale of X’s and O’s.

Written and directed by Ohio State alumnus Don Handfield, “Touchback” takes audiences deep inside the life of former high school football standout Scott Murphy.

Murphy, who was permanently sidelined after an injury in the state championship game, is given the opportunity to rewrite the fate he was originally dealt 15 years in the past.

Through Murphy, Handfield tackles real life obstacles often faced by people in rural communities. Crop failure, foreclosure and even dreams of escaping the confines of one’s hometown are all heavy burdens Murphy faces before revisiting life as a teenager.

Although the idea of time traveling back to the glory days of high school isn’t exactly a fresh one – “17 Again” starring Zac Efron easily comes to mind – the seriousness with which the transition is approached is not as common.

As a struggling farmer trying to provide for his family, Murphy arrives at a point early in the film where he feels defeated with life. With no end in sight for his financial issues, Murphy arrives at the conclusion that money from his life insurance policy would be more beneficial to his family than his own life.

Watching Murphy come to this realization early in the film is haunting and certainly something audiences will not easily forget.

The tone of the movie shifts significantly when Murphy is then given a new chance at life. After a slow, dramatic start to the film, the transition into the faster-paced, carefree life of a high school student serves as a welcomed contrast.

Choosing to use the same actors throughout the movie, including over the 15-year age transformation, seems rather daring. Especially considering the ease with which a younger, high-school-aged cast could have been introduced. It feels as though some actors, such as Brian Presley, who plays Murphy, are comfortable transcending the age gap, while others are forced and unbelievable.

An aspect that is believable, however, is the small town life portrayed in the film.

From the snarky names teenagers use to reference their hometown to the emphasis of football on Friday nights, it is the small details that bring the town of Coldwater, Ohio, to life.

Another area “Touchback” excels is in its use of characterization.

Presley carries the film with the strong yet vulnerable demeanor in which he portrays Murphy. With moments in the storyline running the risk of coming off cheesy or cliché, it is often Presley’s sincerity that legitimizes the script.

As the most notable name attached to the project, Kurt Russell brings high expectations with his portrayal of Murphy’s football coach.

It appeared the challenge for Russell was to separate Coach Hand in “Touchback” from his iconic role as coach of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team, Herb Brooks, in the 2004 film “Miracle.” Ultimately, it is tough to distinguish the two, and by the end of the movie, it just doesn’t feel like Russell was fully able to solidify the sensitivity of Coach Hand.

Audiences might not leave the theater thinking they just saw the best sports movie of all-time, or even in the past year. Regardless, “Touchback” is successful in challenging viewers to look back on their own lives and perhaps, have a greater appreciation for their own past and present.  

Grade: B-

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