A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov
In All the Right Moves Tom Cruise plays Stefan (yes, Stefan!!) Djordjevic – a cocky football jock living in a forgotten small Pennsylvania town that used to be part of the state’s so-called ‘rustbelt’. The most important thing for Stefan in life is to get out of this seemingly God-forsaken town, but like a giant black hole, it keeps sucking him back in. His only hope is getting an athletic scholarship that will help him get into any big school he wants, as far as away from home as possible. But his arrogance towards everyone and everything, is seen as a threat by Coach Nickerson (Craig T. Nelson) he puts a label on him that will trouble any football recruiter – player with an attitude problem. It becomes more and more apparent to Stefan that his life will not turn out the way he had hoped and planned.
This film was made back in the days when football dramas easily garnered a much deserved R rating. Unlike today, when things like Invincible plague movie theaters, the hardships, the angst, and the actual drama that a film like this requires are shown to the audience. It is almost refreshing to watch this film and see it come off stronger than most current day sports dramas. Director Michael Chapman (who later in his career turned solely to doing cinematography) is not afraid of showing the gritty side of a story like this, the side that is bad enough to cause there to be drama in an athlete’s life. In this film’s case it is the lifestyle of the most popular kids in school that turns out to be Stefan’s demise. When you think everyone envies you, that is when you tend to make the worst mistakes in order to retain that status. Because of this, Stefan loses sight of his goals and dreams and on one faithful night, he turns his life upside down.
Another concept that director Chapman and screenwriter Michale Kane throw out at the audience is the frequent unfairness associated with High School sports. Coaches may often bench players that are becoming too popular and too good, because they are afraid of being overshadowed by them. Nickerson is such a coach, and his clash with Stefan seems almost inevitable. This is an ugly message that has been met with disapproval. I mean, when are coaches portrayed negatively in movies? It is almost taboo. But I admire the approach of the film. Sometimes the player is right, sometimes the coach is, sometimes both are wrong – we are all human.
Not to say that the script doesn’t succumb to the usual cliches found in such films. In fact the whole film is a cliche that is sprinkled with various thoughtful and original moments that are strong enough to make it recommendable. All the Right Moves makes for an enjoyable watch. Especially when we see Stefan stand up to for his team in front of the coach and get kicked off the team for it, realizing how bad what just happened was. It is just classic. Also the film doesn’t skip out on the language that is often found in coach-player dialogue. This film has plenty of f-bombs to boot. Also there is a sex scene that involves Stefan and his girlfriend Lisa (Lea Thompson) that is definitely deserving of the R rating. especially for an early 80’s film.
The acting here is good all around. Tom Cruise and Craig t. Nelson carry this movie on their respective shoulders. This is the first time Cruise shows a different side of his acting. In previous films he had played the innocent, do-gooder that wanted to make everything right. Here, his hatred toward his town drives him to despicable behaviors that range from uncontrolled violence to sexism (shades of Magnolia?). He fits into the role perfectly, without making his character too unlikeable. No doubt we can connect with what he is feeling. There are a lot of people in High School that sometimes feel like they just want to go away. Nelson, while a bit typecast, does a great job as the hateful coach who only looks out for number one, while destroying dreams in the process. The supporting cast is good too, with Lea Thompson deserving a mention for her sheer beauty.
Technically the film is solid. The cinematography by Jan de Bont is fitting for a sports drama, but there are moments of sheer bliss. That is especially true during the games, when we fell we are right in the middle of it all. Through de Bont’s camera we feel the triumph and the downfall with these players. The music by David Richard Campbell is a cliche though, and in recent years he has shown that he is better at arranging and conducting music than composing it. With any sports movie, the editing needs to be mentioned. It is done by the late David Garfield who does his best to stray away from convention while not cutting it like some Grudge freak-out. He does an admirable job.
Overall, the film does what it sets out to do, but while watching it, one senses it has a lot more under the surface than previously thought. It has all the hardships that are supposed to be found in a sports drama without the added dose of Hollywoodized slickness. the gritty side of the game and of life, is shown to full effect. Also, this is a must see for Tom Cruise fans, as it may be his first showing as an actor capable of more than just smiling at the camera. Plus, his character’s name is Stefan. How can you lose? Recommended.