MOVIE: REVIEW: THE GRIZZLIES

Lacrosse transforms lives in a story of hope. 
Exceptional performances propel “The Grizzlies” beyond the usual sports story to a heartfelt tale of the indelible impact sports programs can have on students and communities. 
Based on a true story, here Lacrosse changes the lives of underprivileged Inuit students in remote Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Canada. It’s a realistic slice of anguished life told with permeating vulnerability that makes you feel viscerally throughout. 
 
The town as the highest suicide rate in North America. Pervasive domestic abuse and alcoholism are everywhere. What could be the expected familiar plot about working hard through teamwork goes farther in this one through the subtlety of storytelling as we see hurt and pain channelled. You’re probably smirking at the thought of a movie based around Lacrosse but this is just the movie we need right now.  
Director Miranda de Pencier’s feature film directorial debut brings us a film that is not only uplifting and inspirational but leaves us with a sense of hope for all communities....if we unite and try. 
 
This is the story of a teacher who inspired his students to band together and overcome the pain and tribulations of their lives. Rated R for language, some drug and alcohol use, and a focus on suicide and domestic abuse, the rating is a bit harsh but the MPAA obviously wanted to prepare viewers before they watched it. The R rating feels like it is not so much for what you see but rather for the heavy subject matter. The film’s 2020 U.S. release was delayed due to the pandemic. It's a real life story that had to be told and could not be lessened for it to be authentically attainable.
 
Set in the north of north’s, the story has history teacher Russ Shepard played by Ben Schnetzer (The Book Thief, Snowden, Pride) take a job at Kugluktuk High School to pay off his student loan, while he waits for a better more prestigious prep school job. The Inuit town’s grey heaviness is apparent to Russ right away. There are teens drinking and hanging around, old worn out buildings, and a sense of doom that makes his arrival feel, well, like the town itself. Schnetzer is perfectly understated with a performance that fits in smoothly with the indigenous actors who play the students and community members. 
 
When Russ arrives at the "not" prep school school, the white man has his work cut out for him. There is an expected sense of uneasiness and mistrust of the white people. Day one is tough and Russ complains to the principal but she (Tantoo Cardinal) is all to used to the reality of the town and life in the north with a fate that does not change. Here, the mentality and upbringing is different and life is hard so Russ wants to offer them a new outlet. He decides, they will play his passion; Lacrosse. Yes, Lacrosse. He feels that if the students have somewhere to vent, things could change. He feels the game can give them a sense of achievement, community and pride. He tells them Lacross is a game invented by First Peoples. As expected, the kids and their parents are not thrilled at first but Russ has a goal to get his team to the national championships in Toronto and he’s not giving up. As the story unfolds, the characters gel and resonate, as we see Russ beginning to fit in. Writers Graham Lost and Moira Walley-Beckett weave a solid original story of how sports can change lives, while cinematographer Jim Default brings us into the sad setting with shooting that becomes a character in itself. The training scenes work exceptionally well with beating drums that create a sense of movement.
As with any of these true stories, you always crave to see the real characters and they give us that. This film ends with a look at the real members of The Grizzles and how the lessons of this game helped them in their lives.
The film is not overdone, not schmaltzy, not same ol’ same ol’ and is pitch perfect in tone and execution, to give you a look into what dedication on everyones part can truly accomplish. Lesson’s to be learned today more than ever before.
 
  • Production: An Elevation Pictures release of a Northwood Entertainment production in association with Puhitaq, The Kennedy Marshall Company, Jake Steinfeld Productions, Pacific Northwest Pictures, Mongrel Media
  • Producers: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Damon D'Oliveira, Stacey Aglok MacDonald, Zanne Devine, Miranda de Pencier. Executive producers:  Hussain Amarshi, Vinay Virmani, Jake Steinfeld, Frank Marshall
  • Crew: Director: Miranda de Pencier
  • Screenplay: Graham Yost, Moira Walley-Beckett. Camera: Jim Denault. Editors: Ronald Sanders, James Vandewater. Music: Garth Stevenson.
  • Starring: Ben Schnetzer, Booboo Stewart, Tantoo Cardinal, Emerald MacDonald , Paul Nutarariaq, Ricky Marty-Pahtaykan, Will Sasso

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