Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Cast: Stephan James, J.K. Simmons, Alexander Ludwig
Release Date: March 8, 2022
A Review By: Kevin Lovell
Film Rating: 7/10
Disc Rating: 6.5/10
Three days before the college football national championship game, star quarterback LeMarcus James (Stephan James) and teammate Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) ignite a player’s strike declaring they won’t compete until all student-athletes are fairly compensated. With billions of dollars at risk and legacies on the line, the stakes could not be higher. Now, with only hours until kickoff, the head coach (J.K. Simmons) and various power brokers (Kristin Chenoweth, Timothy Olyphant, Uzo Aduba, Lil Rel Howery, Tim Blake Nelson, Andrew Bachelor, Jeffrey Donovan, David Koechner) must race against the clock to protect or destroy the prevailing collegiate athletics system.
Please Note: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Post. The opinions I share are my own.
‘National Champions’ kicks off three days before the college football championship game as star quarterback LeMarcus James (James) and his loyal friend and teammate Emmett Sunday (Ludwig) announce their plans for a strike against the collegiate athletics system, refusing to play in the big game and attempting to acquire as many fellow players to the cause as possible until those getting rich off the sport agree to fairly compensate all student-athletes. With countless dollars on the line, the tense head coach (Simmons) begins trying to find a way to turn the tide and eradicate the idea or make an agreement before the clock runs down the game kicks off.
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh (Greenland, Angel Has Fallen) from a screenplay written by Adam Mervis (21 Bridges), Waugh does a good job at the helm of ‘National Champions’ guiding along the dramatic and dialogue based tale with calm and care throughout. The film also benefits from a solid cast that includes Stephan James (TV’s Homecoming), J.K. Simmons (Being the Ricardos), Alexander Ludwig (TV’s Heels), Lil Rel Howery (Free Guy), Tim Blake Nelson (Nightmare Alley), Russell Wilson (Entourage), Andrew Bachelor (Vacation Friends), Jeffrey Donovan (Wrath of Man), David Koechner (TV’s The Goldbergs), Kristin Chenoweth (The Witches 2020), Timothy Olyphant (Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood) and Uzo Aduba (American Pastoral) along with more and nearly all providing solid, if not at least largely capable performances for the most part in each of their respective roles.
‘National Champions’ is an entertaining and thought provoking look at the world of college sports through events surrounding one college football team over the course of a few days leading up to the championship game and two teammates who disrupt the system with their demands for all college players to be fairly compensated. With a powerful premise to focus on and taking its time to explore both ends of the scenario from those running the business end down to the players themselves fighting for change, it offers a compelling look at something many probably never even considered being an issue and for the most part does so with care.
Somewhat surprisingly, ‘National Champions’ is one of the rare films with a focus primarily revolving around the world of football that doesn’t feature any actual training or game footage within (aside from a brief moment or two seen on a television screen), instead opting for concentrating on the more political and money related aspects of the college sport and crafting a somewhat timely and at times moving tale of two young college stars risking everything to fight for what they believe is right. I would definitely encourage trying to find the time to give this one a chance if you’re at all intrigued or a fan of the director and/or key cast. It may not be entirely perfect or monumental, but it’s a thoughtful and well-constructed film with something to say and a stellar cast to back it up.
Overall, ‘National Champions’ is an intriguing look at the world of college sports from behind the scenes as two college football stars ignite a strike, refusing to play until those in control agree to fairly compensate all college athletes. With a thought-provoking and quite timely story explored from both perspectives to a degree, it’s a fairly solid drama that revolves around football and sports in general even if there’s no on the field footage within, instead concentrating on the issue at hand and utilizing a talented cast that helps it work fairly well most of the time. ‘National Champions’ is recommended, especially for anyone with an interest in the subject matter or the film itself, as well as fans of the solid cast within. It probably isn’t necessary to go out of your way to check it out immediately, but it is worth taking the time to give a chance whenever convenient.
The Blu-ray release of ‘National Champions’ features a full 1080p High Definition presentation with the film’s original 2.40:1 Cinemascope Aspect Ratio. The video presentation looks pretty good for the most part and offers a clean, sharp and capable presentation from start to finish. It holds up rather well even during the various darkly lit and more gloomy indoor sequences and aside from some noticeable noise in the truly dark moments it otherwise delivers quite admirably without any unexpected issues or problems arising throughout; always keeping the characters and front and center elements looking sharp and nearly perfect. Overall, this is a solid high definition video presentation that should largely please fans and newcomers to the film.
The Blu-ray release features a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This multichannel soundtrack does its job well and offers a crisp, clean and highly capable audio presentation throughout. It occasionally utilizes all five available channels in order to send the score and some mild crowd chatter along with other casual effects throughout the various speakers whenever fitting, but being the largely dialogue based film that it is without any actual footage from games occurring within, the majority of the activity is calm and often mostly focused to the center channel as expected. Overall, this is a fully capable 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that delivers in every way required of it and shouldn’t disappoint.
The Blu-ray release of ‘National Champions’ includes a few brief extras. Included on the release are the Behind the Scenes Featurettes ‘Behind the Music’ (running approximately 2 minutes in length) and ‘The Game’ (running approximately 3 minutes) which both explore different aspects of the film and feature interviews/comments with the cast and crew, plus more. ‘Sports Trivia with the Cast of National Champions’ (approximately 1 minute) is also included.
*Please note that the above images are taken from the Blu-Ray and resized. They will additionally suffer quality loss as a result of .jpg compression. Larger versions of each image can be viewed by clicking on the image. All images and content included on this Blu-Ray release are the property of their respective owners.
Film Rating: 7/10
Disc Rating: 6.5/10
‘National Champions’ is Now Available to Own on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital from STX Films & Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
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