★★★ / ★★★★
Some people say that the portrayal of the US Naval Academy was unrealistic, but I really wasn’t looking for realism when I decided to see this film. I went to see it to gauge James Franco’s acting ability in his lesser-known or less critically-acclaimed movies. I love stories about underestimated people who dream of big things but are born in poor families. This is a perfect example of that and, aside from some of its overdramatic scenes (especially before a boxing match), pretty much everything worked. I thought it was interesting how the filmmakers related life to a boxing match–how a strong person gets hit countless times and sometimes falls but is never defeated unless he decides to not stand back up. And throughout this picture, that’s the overall tone: a challenge is presented to Franco’s character, how he learns to deal with those challenges and build a reputation between his peers and higher officers. It’s also about learning to ask for help and when it’s the right time to help others even if they don’t want any help. I thought Donnie Wahlberg is brilliant as a higher officer who believes in Franco even though he doesn’t have that many scenes. In a way, he seemed like a father figure who provides support but is also there to provide some tough love. Jordana Brewster as Franco’s love interest is surprisingly effective because the two of them actually have chemistry. She managed to balance sensitivity and toughness well. As for Tyrese Gibson, at first I thought he was going to be an archetypal baddie but over time, we learn that he had to be tough because of the things he experienced in the past; even though he ultimately cares, it’s difficult for him to portray what he’s really feeling–a trait that a lot of people have. I think a lot of critics were harsh on this film because it does have elements from other (better) movies about a person who overcomes challenges in the Academy/military. For me, it’s more important to treat a movie as its own instead of comparing it to similar movies that came before (especially if it’s not a sequel or a part of a series).