My All American recounts the true story of Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock), a starting safety for the University of Texas Longhorns' 1969 National Championship-winning football team, who was by all accounts an exceptional athlete and even greater human being. His life on and off the field was an inspiration to his family, friends, teammates, coaches, and fans. He was the kind of remarkable young man every parent hopes to raise, every woman dreams of marrying, and every coach wants in his locker room. He was handsome, humble, honest, courteous, and kind. He went to mass every morning and got his hair cut every week. He was the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave. In other words, Freddie Steinmark was pretty much a saint. And while we all admire saints, they can, unfortunately, make for dull movie characters.
Writer-director Angelo Pizzo has said in interviews that Rudy, the rousing crowd-pleaser about an undersized kid intent on playing football at Notre Dame (which he also wrote the script for), was 70 percent true, but that the producers wanted My All American to be 90 percent accurate. And therein lies the problem: Steinmark, as portrayed in this good-hearted but bloodless biopic, is so upright that he's downright boring. Also, for the first three-plus quarters of the movie there is little conflict, which saps the story of any drama. Every setback is quickly resolved. For example, Steinmark, an outstanding running back at his Colorado high school, dreams of playing in college and the NFL, but because of his slight frame he is lightly recruited. However, his coach puts in a good word for him with Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart), the head coach at Texas, and Royal in turn offers him a full scholarship to play safety. In addition, Steinmark dates the prettiest girl at his high school (Sarah Bolger), who is as straight as six o'clock as he is, but college threatens to disrupt their relationship. Not to worry; she applies to Texas and is immediately accepted. Another crisis averted. And on it goes.
It also doesn't help that Steinmark plays defense. Much of the movie takes place on the gridiron, but strangely, it focuses mainly on Royal's newfangled wishbone offense. This strategy is a failure at first, and we half expect (and desperately want) Royal to put Steinmark in the backfield to get it going. But, of course, this never happens. And when the tactic does start clicking under a new quarterback, the film becomes even more offensive-minded, which leaves Steinmark pretty much on the sidelines. It isn't until the final stretch, when Steinmark learns he has a cancerous tumor in his leg, that the plot introduces some real conflict. But, true to form, he handles even this heartrending setback with quiet dignity, which is extremely admirable but not very interesting to watch. His struggle is mostly glossed over as the picture races to its predictably tear-inducing, yet oddly cheerful finale.
Finn Wittrock (American Horror Story) plays Steinmark straight-up and flawless, which may be true to the script and the man's life, but robs the movie of any real emotion. Even the supposedly colorful Royal comes off as bland. The film desperately needs a coach with fire in his belly and the ability to raise pulses, like Denzel Washington's Herman Boone from Remember the Titans, and Royal isn't it.
After Steinmark's playing days were cut short, he coached freshman football at the University of Texas, became a spokesman for the American Cancer Society, and gave motivational speeches around the country. Sadly, none of this is in the movie. Freddie Steinmark was an exceptional young man who accomplished great things both on and off the playing field. Too bad the film he inspired fails to meet his lofty standards.