Dwayne Johnson Month: Gridiron Gang (2006) Review

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Gridiron Gang was Dwayne Johnson leading a movie as a “proper” actor. He’d dabbled with roles that weren’t action-orientated already, with both Be Cool and Southland Tales but in those he was a part of an ensemble and there were bigger stars holding the weight of the movies. Here, Johnson is the lead (his head is the biggest on the poster) and there is not a Rock Bottom in sight or even a single punch to be swung.

Instead, Gridiron Gang focuses on the other sport in Dwayne Johnson’s life – American Football. This is the tale of a Juvenile Correction Officer who wants to set his “inmates” on the right track by channelling their aggression and lack of ambition through football. So far, so Saturday Afternoon Drama but Gridiron Gang just about manages to save itself by having a gritty under-current.

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There are plenty of compelling stories for each of various characters

The opening is fairly brutal and gives you the back-story of key teenager Willie Weathers, played by Jade Yorker. It is a violent insight into what the youth involved in gang-culture have to deal with and it successfully captures your attention from the out-set. Although the film never reaches this gritty level quite so overtly again (although a shocking shooting later in the movie comes close) the realism of the tale is always present; be it hard truths about what these teenager offenders are missing through tough interactions with love-ones; through to a throw-away comment about a knifing by one of the funniest characters in the movie.

Gridiron Gang is well-written and always engaging. There is enough diversity of character, from anger-torn Junior through to Trever O’Brien’s Bates who just wants a meaningful connection with his Mum. The movie does enough so that you actually care about the characters that the story is following.

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Johnson proves he can be a dramatic actor too

That goes for Johnson’s Sean Porter as well. Johnson gives a good performance here and away from witty one-liners and bad guys to punch, he shows that he has the acting ability to make him the mega-star that he is today. Johnson’s character has more to work with too. He isn’t just the tough coach who has to grab these kids by the scruff of the neck and create a football team. He is also fighting authority, dealing with a dying Mum and dead father-issues of his own. To say it is slightly cheesy and cliche would be on-the-money.

It balances this fine line successfully for the most part but you can’t escape the formulaic nature of the film. It is a drama about redemption, acceptance and bridging divides but it is also a sports film and certain story-beats need to be adhered to. The plucky under-dogs, the stirring team-talk, the hurdles put in place and then smashed through and of course, the tense final, all-or-nothing match with the “rivals.” If you have seen any sports film you could have a fair chance at guessing the outcome of this one but that doesn’t make it any less compelling.

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It still follows some fairly cliched sports movie tropes

The characters keep you watching and there are enough individual story-arcs to bring together, that you want to see the outcome. It is satisfying too. Particularly when as the credits roll you get an actual look at a documentary that tells the true story this movie is based on and when you see the real-people behind the characters, that is when the story is at its most effective.

Overall, Gridiron Gang is a success in many areas. It is a sports movie which delivers a predictable story effectively. It is a film with a range of varying characters, each who get a decent story and plenty of dramatic scenes. It is also Johnson’s first major, actual-acting performance and he nails it. Melodrama and cliche aside, a good, solid movie.

Rating – 3.5

(1 – AWFUL, 2 – AVERAGE, 3 – GOOD, 4 – GREAT, 5! – MUST SEE)

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A successful sports movie

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